Maybe you’ve heard this story. A winter so cold my grandfather watched hot soup freeze in a bowl. He was living in the forest with other teenagers outside Antopol. Maybe you heard about the weapons he robbed from peasants. Maybe you heard about the sticks of dynamite he set along military rail routes, waiting for them to spark and explode. Maybe you heard about the boar he chased out of the woods. When I was a kid we’d spend summers in Tel Aviv, squeezed into his sweaty orange kitchen, plucking olives from a bowl and spitting the pits in our palms while my mother fixed us lunch. He had a deep tan and a fat laugh, white hair parted drastically to one side. He liked to sit around in his undershirt and sandals and tell stories, stories I half-believed but still repeated to my friends like gospel, of secret missions and near escapes. Always – always – at some point he and my father would argue. And suddenly it was as if the two of them had taken up all the oxygen in the room and my grandfather would stomp out to the patio, and my father would say to us, He’s always been like this. The war’s over seventy years and still he’s in it. He hates everything. And my mother would say, Nachum, calm down, and my father would say, I am calm, and then she’d give me the look, and I’d pack up our uneaten lunch and take my grandfather around the block to the park. I worked forty years at the shoe store, he’d say to me. Now we’ve got locations all over the country. You tell your father that’s called progress. And I don’t hate everything. He didn’t walk the streets so much as patrol them. I love my apartment, I love the heat, I love you. I love this park, he’d say, gesturing wildly. I’d watch Filipina nannies push double strollers up the path, watch two teenagers, barefoot and in Bedouin pants, lumber after a Frisbee. I love this bench! he’d say. It’s our bench. But then he’d start popping his knuckles like he did when he was antsy and I’d know this couldn’t go on. But I don’t love that squirrel, he’d blurt. It’s nothing but a rat with a goofy tail. And those kids? They’re lazy at Frisbee. Why aren’t they in school? Give me that bag, he’d say, and when I did he’d lay out our lunch, boiled eggs and pita and fruit salad, and say, I don’t love the berries at Supersol. They’re mush. I ate better ones that year in the forest. All winter it was potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, but come summer blackberries were everywhere. See, that’s me being positive. Give me a napkin. Give me a fork. Give me that stick over there, he’d say. It’s a good one. You see this? Long and so straight that at night they might mistake it for a rifle. Hold it up like this and no one can ever hurt you.
Shortlisted for the Forward Prizes for Poetry
‘I want the poem to destroy time. / What are the ceremonies of forgetting?’
An elegy by Nick Laird for his father, Alastair Laird, who died in 2021 of Covid-19. Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem.
‘In the place where I grew up there were horses, thighs moving like nudity under their fur’
From Amnion by Stephanie Sy-Quia, published by Granta Books and shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.
How Prayer Works
‘My brother and I hurried through sloppy postures of praise, quiet as the light pooling around us.’
A poem by Kaveh Akbar, from his shortlisted collection Pilgrim Bell, first published in Granta 156: Interiors.
‘I wanted to and then / Remembered why I want to never’
Poetry by Shane McCrae, shortlisted for Cain Named the Animal.
‘Would / the apple be concerned / if I said it was not an apple’
Poems by Padraig Regan, from Some Integrity, shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection.