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Agi Mishol's "Woman Martyr"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Agi Mishol

Introduction and Text of "Woman Martyr"

The speaker in Agi Mishol's four-versagraph poem, "Woman Martyr," reports a disturbing event in which a young woman feigning pregnancy walks into a bakery and blows herself up.

Mishol explains the genesis of the poem, "With that poem it was the suicide bomber's last name, Takatka. … Her name sounded like the ticking of a bomb—taka-taka like tick-tock . . . ." The poet appends an epigrammatic quotation from Nathan Alterman's "Late Afternoon in the Market": "The evening goes blind, and you are only twenty."

Woman Martyr

"The evening goes blind, and you are only twenty."
—Nathan Alterman, “Late Afternoon in the Market”

You are only twenty
and your first pregnancy is a bomb.
Under your broad skirt you are pregnant with dynamite
and metal shavings. This is how you walk in the market,
ticking among the people, you, Andaleeb Takatka.

Someone loosened the screws in your head
and launched you toward the city;
even though you come from Bethlehem,
the Home of Bread, you chose a bakery.
And there you pulled the trigger out of yourself,
and together with the Sabbath loaves,
sesame and poppy seed,
you flung yourself into the sky.

Together with Rebecca Fink you flew up
with Yelena Konre’ev from the Caucasus
and Nissim Cohen from Afghanistan
and Suhila Houshy from Iran
and two Chinese you swept along
to death.

Since then, other matters
have obscured your story
about which I speak all the time
without having anything to say.

—translation from Hebrew by Lisa Katz

Mishol reading "Woman Martyr" in Hebrew, with subtitles in Spanish

Commentary

The speaker is dramatizing the unspeakable act of a woman faking pregnancy to hide a bomb, then entering a bakery to explode herself into a supposed martyrdom.

First Versagraph: A Human Time Bomb

You are only twenty
and your first pregnancy is a bomb.
Under your broad skirt you are pregnant with dynamite
and metal shavings. This is how you walk in the market,
ticking among the people, you, Andaleeb Takatka.

The first versagraph describes the young woman, Andaleeb Takatka, who is only twenty years old. She is wearing "a broad skirt" to make people think she is pregnant, but her pregnancy "is a bomb"; she is "pregnant with dynamite / and metal shavings." She walks into the market "ticking among the people."

Second Versagraph: A Detonating Pregnancy

Someone loosened the screws in your head
and launched you toward the city;
even though you come from Bethlehem,
the Home of Bread, you chose a bakery.
And there you pulled the trigger out of yourself,
and together with the Sabbath loaves,
sesame and poppy seed,
you flung yourself into the sky.

In the second versagraph, the speaker psychoanalyzes the young woman, referring to the common phrase of craziness as having a screw loose. Then the speaker observes that even though the young woman was a native of Bethlehem, "Home of Bread," she chose to enter a bakery in that city to commit her foul deed, and so she detonates her "pregnancy," and along with the "Sabbath loaves, / sesame and poppy seed," she exploded herself "into the sky."

Third Versagraph: Names of Victims

Together with Rebecca Fink you flew up
with Yelena Konre’ev from the Caucasus
and Nissim Cohen from Afghanistan
and Suhila Houshy from Iran
and two Chinese you swept along
to death.

In the third versagraph, the speaker catalogues the names of the victims of this so-called woman martyr: her six victims are Rebecca Fink, probably a Bethlehem resident, Yelena Konre'ev of the Caucasus, Nissim Cohen, an Afghanistan citizen, Suhila Houshy, an Iranian, and two Chinese. Although not mentioned, the reader realizes that along with those who were killed there must have been numerous others who suffered critical injuries.

Fourth Versagraph: Meaning Remains Undetected

Since then, other matters
have obscured your story
about which I speak all the time
without having anything to say.

In the final verse paragraph, the speaker concludes that since that fateful day, additional details have continued to obliterate the underlying story of the young woman. The speaker admits that although she also continues to speak of the crime, she really has little of importance to say about it. The speaker leaves the reader realizing the unspeakable nature of such an act, at least for the speaker the story is unexplainable. Even though she talks about it, she feels that she really cannot say much with meaning.

Life Sketch of Agi Mishol

Born to Hungarian Holocaust survivors, Agi Mishol was four years old, when her family relocated to Israel. She and her husband still live in Israel on a farm. She earned her BA and MA degrees in Hebrew literature from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Currently, she serves a writer-in-residence at Tel Aviv University, and she teaches creative writing at Alma College in Tel Aviv. Mishol has published twelve books of poetry, and she was awarded the first Yehuda Amichai Poetry Prize in 2002.

About poetry, Mishol explained in an interview with Lisa Katz:

. . . poetry as I experience it is usually born out of quietness, nothingness. That's poetry's natural background. I often think about it as the image of a fish in water: living in it, the fish doesn't notice the water. Poetry too lives inside this nothingness. Inside the quiet.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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