Biographical 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..”
In Mishol’s free verse poem, “Woman Martyr,” the speaker describes a horrific event of a young woman walking into a bakery and blowing herself up. About how she wrote the poem, Mishol says, “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 . . . .”
Mishol appends an epigrammatic quotation from Nathan Alterman’s “Late Afternoon in the Market”: “The evening goes blind, and you are only twenty.” The first stanza 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.”
In the second verse paragraph, the speaker psychoanalyzes the young woman: “Someone loosened the screws in your head / and launched you toward the city.” 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.”
In the third verse paragraph, 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.
Then in the fourth verse paragraph, the speaker concludes: “Since then, other matters / have obscured your story, / about which I speak all the time / without having anything to say.” 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.
The copyright of the article Agi Mishol’s ‘Woman Martyr’ in World Poetry is owned by Linda Sue Grimes. Permission to republish Agi Mishol’s ‘Woman Martyr’ in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.