EDWARD WHITTEMORE IN JERUSALEM - POEMS & SKETCHES BY HELEN BAR-LEV

Edward Whittemore lived with Helen Bar-Lev in Jerusalem from 1982 to 1987. During that time Helen drew several portrait sketches of Whittemore and later wrote several poems about him.

Helen is a very fine poet and a wonderful artist who lives in Jerusalem. She has kindly allowed me to reproduce the poems and sketches on the site. I encourage you to visit her web site www.helenbarlev.com to see more of her poetry and art.

The sketches are available as limited signed prints (size A5 - 14.8cm x 21cm). If you wish to purchase these prints they are US $32.00 (including shipping) except the Ethiopian Compound house which is US$55.00. A discount applies for buying more than one. Please email Helen at hbarlev@netvision.net.il to purchase them.

To view full size images click on the individual sketches.


 
 
 
THE AUTHOR

Your handwriting was thick and indelible,
penned boldly in elegant script
it was rhythmic, symmetrical
letters rounded, perfectly formed,
it took one by surprise,
was pleasing to the eye

Immediately there was the sense
of a forceful personality
flamboyant, intense;
it told of a complex man,
a character from the dark side of a novel
silent, secretive, inscrutable

It shouted self-confidence
screamed SEE ME
was an invitation, a warning
of passionate temperament
and arrogance
you were a figure too convoluted
to comprehend

One might get the impression
from the thick, bold firmness
of the script
that you were a man of huge dimensions
but, no, you were slim, almost a skeleton
your skin too was thin -
as though it had frayed by brushing up
too often against malignant forces,
or had been worn too long

You hid your deviousness
with modest success
behind a short and intellectual white beard
where you nurtured it
with the detailed attention and true affection
of those whose love of self is foremost

You sucked your pipe sensuously
lips locked tight in privacy,
your hidden parts were best kept separate
from knowledge, especially your own

You were a generous taker;
this was your wont,
the persistent pattern
which defined the essence of you,
to enmesh your soul into those of others;
to enrich, to hurt, to abandon

Change was essential for your artistic imagination
it was necessary for you to push
the button of self-destruction
every several years;
you perceived that such upheaval
suited your personality
inspired more creativity

Your handwriting reflected
the fire inside you,
the inscrutable writer
forever the wanderer,
whose writing on the wall
told it all

It had always been there
but ignored by those
who would rather worship
your unworthy image
and preferred the comfort
of misinterpreting its message
until your death

And the non-legacy you left
are books unread,
hurt and bitterness

It should have been different

© 1.2005 Helen Bar-Lev

TED AGAIN

And so you intrude
into my dreams again
your ghost unable to leave me
even though you did so with practiced abruptness
eighteen years ago
pulled as you were by your wanderer's magnet
not a glance back
in the direction of my mourning

And now, ten years dead
the ghost of you has decided
to return to my dreams,
compassionless as the you I knew,
abandoning other women
whom I then comfort
inside the folds of my dream

If your soul has indeed reached Heaven,
it is a doubtful one,
and I am not certain it rests well
in such bright and peaceful light

© 2.2005 Helen Bar-Lev

MEMORIES OF A STREET

Here you are walking down a street
which for twenty years has not seen your feet
arm-in-arm with memories bittersweet

A sudden stab of nostalgia
you never knew you felt
for a past best laid to rest
mixed joys and unhappiness

Now in retrospect
a past too sad to regret
and memories too heavy to cherish
how unsuspected and unexpected

How could such distant pain
so explicit so vivid
manifest again when you were so certain
you were the Master of memories past

As if on cue a curtain rises
three people from then
a monk, a dwarf, a postal clerk
they don't see you

You watch them in fascination
they have not aged in twenty years
which is what men do

You walk down the road to your old home
fighting the tears of recognition and familiarity
as though you were here only recently

Everything is the way it was all those yesterdays ago
just as you had remembered even though you thought
you chose not to do so

But this is as far as you go
not to the courtyard, not to the gate
not to the stairs, not to the door
your soul's protests are too strong
it would be wrong

You cannot will not live it again
how very strange, all these feelings you never knew
were still in you
on a walk one afternoon in Jerusalem

© 2004 Helen Bar-Lev

Meeting in a Restaurant

they met In a restaurant in Manhattan
after he left her and her country
and she reneged on her vow
to obliterate him from memory
after she learned he was infirm
and wrote to him via his family,
he responded and here they were,
sitting appropriately
in a Middle Eastern restaurant,
up-to-dating each other,
he in his inscrutable way,
never mentioning his new woman,
just a mundane list of complaints
about his new city, about money,
and questions about the friends
he had left as he had her,
without warning, with no farewell

off-guard he said, a childish grin of admission,
that he'd always be like this,
a roamer, a wanderer,
true always to his life's mission
to love, write, write, love, leave,
she listened, then, into the meal,
dessert now, fork midway to her mouth,
he said, jovial, confident, pleased with his plan,
that he wanted to return to her home

shockwaves zoomed through her,
the forkful of baklava found her mouth,
honeyed her bitterness,
no she said, no, knowing he would leave again,
his pattern, his modus operandi,
remembering the ache which took two years
for her soul to reject and regain its equilibrium

she will remember forever
his face falling from grin to confusion,
(I think no woman had ever refused him)
he choked, stammered, but, but,
we'll still be friends, won't we?
of course, she assured

they arose, he to return to a woman
of whose existence she was unaware,
whom he would have left in a flash,
as he did her, had she agreed that evening
to his returning

and of course,
she paid the bill,
after all, they were friends,
weren't they?

© 6.2008 Helen Bar-Lev

FOUR YEARS

I was a mere forty when we met
innocence still a good companion,
you a distinguished nine years more
beard already white
in preparation for an old age
which never came

For four fretful years
we clung to one another
knowing always, never admitting,
that our beginning
was also our ending;
denial throbbed thick through our veins

You left - this was inevitable -
the cosmic script had been written
and you chose not to exit that familiar stage;
but the pain stayed
slept fitful on your pillow
stabbed its way into my dreams
greeted me in the cold
of those many mornings

Only when it signaled its absence
two cruel years later
by a silence which wafted in
like a friendly fog,
did I realize how intense
had been the extent
of my mourning

© 2.2005 Helen Bar-Lev


PARADISE

The nuns were young and beautiful
their voices resonated
like delicate bells

They were angels in white habits,
brown sashes, sandals, even in winter
who floated on holy air

They existed on the same planet as did you and I
but the filter of their innocence purified the atmosphere;
as they were closer to heaven
the air was more rarified for them

Passion flowers grew thickly on the fence
surrounding their convent
protected their privacy
from the eyes of passersby

But we spied respectfully
invaded their white world from across the street
on our second story balcony
saw them wash their underwear like normal mortals
awoke to their chorus of glorious voices
at six in the morning
anticipated Vespers at six each evening;
the songs transported us
to other realms

One day a surprised knock on our door
two distressed nuns confronted us
their old but much loved car had been stolen
perhaps we had seen?
but no
police were called
innocence lost

The demise of paradise
had commenced its malicious march
magic was shattered
you left
I dreamt of broken glass
in the soups I used to make for you
and ate their pieces with a mournful spoon

Soon the nuns moved too
the day their music disappeared
was the day hardness set into my face
and I began to age
learned to trust only impermanence
and change

© 1.2005 Helen Bar-Lev

More sketches - click on image for a larger view