On Friday nights, when the family’s asleep and the head is bettered with wine, Walter Benjamin’s voice broadcasts on Radio Berlin: “The earth constantly trembles under the feet.” My body too trembles in an inciting devotion song I sneak through the rusty gate at Ibn Shaprut, collecting Gershom Scholem from his home on Abrabanel Street from Gaza to Berlin. Benjamin’s voice follows us, materializes in the filthy passages, Anglo-Saxon Haredi men wander around in three-piece suits. Benjamin in varnished shoes, Scholem in butterfly hunter’s hat, and I in black Adidas sweatpants. The young men recoil from us, crack sunflower seeds on the sidewalks, jerk off secretly to an ad on the back page of an abandoned newspaper, creating Angels of Sabotage summoning Lilith “Come come,” building a tabernacle for the Great Crocodiles not noticing that the earth is swarming with angels clad in dresses, gentiles’ jewelry, and three toes in every foot. Their eyes wide open, their mouths gaping, their wings spread as in a priestly blessing, they try to rise from the ground up to the Star of Redemption, moving slowly like Saturn toward Jerusalem (a guesthouse for broken angels tired of ruins who at the end of their lives come to die here, angels from America, from Ibiza, from Paris, from der Himmel über Berlin). I point to the smallest among them: Paul Klee painted him with watercolors. Benjamin hung him in every room he’d lived in, after his death the chopped-winged angel was sent to Scholem’s room on Abarbanel Street. In the courtyard children now play with curly payot mumbling in Yiddish, and I translate the warnings for Scholem: Sabateans on you, Gershom Scholem, naked punks rattling their organs, old Gnostics jumping from every direction. On the way home I count us aloud: “Iron numbers up!”* No one answers, they’re all absent. Benjamin did not reach Palestine, did not land in New York, committed suicide in the Pyrenees a moment before the border could have been stolen. Scholem died childless in Jerusalem. The Angel of History is now lying in the storerooms of the Israel Museum. I saw it a week ago. This is no London or Rome, here there’s no line, no guards, I stood alone in front of the angel who asked my name, I closed my eyes. I bought a poster from the souvenir shop near the exit. Now it hangs alone in my room, the angel redeeming me from all evil will bless the woman recumbent on the couch beside me with the weekend’s newspaper bleeding in her hands: “History!” And the portrait of Donald Trump smiling in it, tanned as ever.
We go hunting at the break of dawn, the parking
inspector and me,
not meeting each other’s eyes. Quietly walking
searching for suspicious signs:
him, on the windshields
me, in the obituaries.
Traces appear when the thirty days of mourning are over
piled up on the sidewalks:
Else Lasker-Schüler lying outside the fence, Martin
Buber’s beard brushing the curbstones, Breakdown and
edition (Stiebel Publishing, New York), Tower and
in volumes of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, dedications in
The neighborhood surrenders its assets.
I sort books into produce cartons
the inspector writes tickets, fixes them to the
windshields on Hatibonim Street.
When the hunt is over we sit down, sharing a conversation
about the loot. The inspector takes Natan
Zach, questions aloud: “How to sweeten days.”
How else but with remnants.
Translations from the Hebrew
* Author’s note: “Iron numbers” is the name of a method for counting large groups of people, used in the Israeli army.