Zach depicts the way in which an individual’s experience becomes public property, or, alternately, is permanently erased from human memory.
These words are being written at a time when survival has become even more difficult: for civilians and soldiers, in Iraq and Chechnya, for the poor and unemployed, in America and Israel, for those ill with AIDS and SARS, in Africa and China, for those living in distress and fear all over the world. Even the life of fish isn’t easy: the recent ecological disaster near the Galician shore of Spain, which followed on the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige, demonstrates this. And, too, the Israeli poetry web site “Anonymous Fish” has ceased appearing.
None of these crises is the subject of Natan Zach’s poem “Recalled and Forgotten.” Yet, in sharp detail, with irony, and the wonderful combination of restraint and effervescence so characteristic of him, Zach depicts the way in which an individual’s experience becomes public property, or, alternately, is permanently erased from human memory. Here he writes of the art of walking on water, an art which has carried the name of a young, Jewish son of Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, to the far ends of the earth. This same handsome, bearded man, who associated with fishermen, prostitutes and tax collectors, wandered the paths of his homeland in the landscape of biblical Israel: in the Judean hills and along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The events of his life and the manner of his death have long been legend, but the hero of this legend changed not only his own life but that of his people and all history. Whether he was the Son of God or an eccentric guru who invented a new religion, he became a pyramid that stands even when the pharaoh is forgotten.
Today, when we are subject to endless titillation, when a never ending string of events is broadcast continuously— recycled, documented, and faked too – poetry is a limpid voice that may help us survive difficult times. In an interview conducted by the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz a few months ago, Zach spoke against the terrible noise which prevents us from hearing each other, and inside which language becomes degraded. In contrast, in “Recalled and Forgotten,” Zach writes of the birth of folklore, the wrinkles of memory and the destiny of oblivion. This poem is as far from folklore as East is from West, but the power of one individual to create is what stands behind every folk art or song.
The individual and the collective; I and we; all the fishes in the sea and one strange fish, unlike any of the others. Too bad so many of us so easily forget we are all made of the same flesh, children of the same great earth, an earth which once had no borders. Zach’s poetry reminds us of something worth remembering: you don’t have to learn the art of walking on water in order to survive, but the beauty of that experience wins out over the memory of horror: human life is valuable – which is the message of poetry, and of life, in a nutshell.