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Introduction: by the authors

The people of Israel live under a constant daily bombardment of the senses. Hues and fragrances of each season blend into the next. Israel’s geography encloses stark
desert, towering mountains, lakes, seas, the modern and the ancient – all in a country that can be traversed from north to south in a few short hours.

Not only natural contrasts abound here, but human ones too.  Jews, Moslems and Christians all celebrate their histories of piety and strife here and the stones of our dwelling places and temples are pock-marked with bullet holes and blood stains.  Wars follow wars with frightful regularity and we raise our children to cherish peace and to be strong enough to defend themselves if that hoped for day continues to fade into an unknown future.

Ambivalence is everywhere: we are at the same time zealots and idolaters, cousins and sworn enemies, the environment we awake to every morning is strewn with cyclamens and swords.

Through it all we continue to love this tiny country with a desperate love that despite it all, one day the words of the prophet Isaiah will take root here and that our swords will truly be turned into ploughshares.

We hope that this short trip of poems and paintings will give you some idea of what it is like to live in our wonderful yet fearsome country.

                                                                                                                                 Helen and Johnmichael


From the Foreword by Katherine L. Gordon, Author, Editor, Publisher, Judge and Reviewer,

Resident Columnist for Ancient Heart Magazine.

The title poem “Cyclamens and Swords”  leads the reader into the razor-fields of barefoot choreography that is the daily dance of life in Israel today.

The artistic device of Johnmichael Simon’s insights into each venture, accompanying Helen Bar-Lev’s words and illustrations, is a gripping combination that enhances the whole book, with two writers weaving and completing the theme like a classic chorus: H. Bar-Lev:  “sheep in a barbed wire fence”,  J. Simon: “bunched between the sprawl of Europe/and the dark shroud/over Arabia.  H. Bar-Lev: “reminding us we are still in Israel, that this is not yet paradise” “in a forest at peace with itself/a katyusha rocket’s lob away.”

These are very talented writers who have developed together a total immersion experience into the literature, geography and art of the lands that birthed these
phenomena.  Cyclamens and Swords will become a treasured classic, echoing as it does so fluently, the longing, fearing and questing that marks these troubled times. Helen Bar-Lev’s poem Beauty sums up the reader’s feelings as we reluctantly finish this special book: “and I,/the ingrate,/ever insatiable,/implore you,/please,/show/me/more.” 



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