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Poetry evening

December 19, 2018

A year ago, I was invited to read a poem at a poetry evening. I do not write poetry, and do not connect to the genre, but I have written a number of songs in the past for family events. So… I decided to overcome my shyness (since the main problem was standing in front of an audience and reading the poem) and the difficulty of writing a poem of personal significance.


I really liked the result, and I want to share it with you, my dear readers. But before you read what I read that evening, it is important to explain the double meaning of the word "writer" in Hebrew. In Hebrew, the word for “to count,” a verb, also means “writer,” a noun. The word is: SOFER (for a male) or SOFERET (for a female). As you know, I am an accountant...

I apologize in advance that the song in English does not rhyme as it rhymes in Hebrew ...

It was such a success that I was invited this year as well. This year I read a protest song to the tax assessor. (See a link to youtube below).


Here is what I said in my first poetry evening:




I will have to read from a written text, because I have great difficulty speaking in front of an audience. I tried to memorize what I wanted to say, but it just did not come out well, and I prefer to say what I have to say in the clearest and least stuttering way.


My name is Michal Hartstein. I am 43 years old, I’m from Ramat Gan, and to date I have published three books - prose for adults. All my books have been published in Hebrew and English. But, the truth is, writing is not my source of income. I'm an accountant... for many people, creative writing and accounting are two parallel lines, but, in my world, I find room for every field. I love writing and I also like being an accountant. There’s no contradiction between the two.

I am now reading Prof. Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It’s highly recommended, by the way. I find in it all kinds of interesting anecdotes, and one of them is related to the invention of writing. As we all know, the human mind can remember entire books by heart. There are people who know the Bible by heart, and there are those who memorize books of poetry that they like, but no one will ever be able to memorize bank statements, and I’d like to quote from page 130 of the book, the Hebrew edition: "For those interested in knowing the first words of wisdom that come to us from a distance of five thousand years, and what the messages that were sent to us from our forefathers, expect great disappointment. All that our forefathers give us from those distant days are things like "135 liters. barley. 37 months. Kusham." The meaning of this message is apparently: "135 thousand liters of barley were obtained for 37 months. Signed by Kusham." Contrary to what one might have hoped for, the first texts in history do not contain philosophical reflections, beautiful poems, legends of law books, or acts of kings. The first texts are arduous financial documents that track tax payments."

Dear Friends. We - the accountants! - we invented writing. Give us the proper respect.


Later in his book, the talented author dedicates another section to the accountants, which I also feel a strong need to quote. It is also connected to the evolution of writing during the agricultural revolution, and it refers to the schools that trained the various clerks. Page 137: "In a sense, the minds of the clerks were re-programmed to stop thinking like humans, and to start thinking like clerks and accountants. As human beings have known since ancient Sumerian days, officials and accountants think in an inhuman way."

Obviously, we think in an inhuman way, otherwise we would not have invented - for you human beings - writing....


So, I received from Prof. Harari a seal that I'm not really human, but the truth is that, even among my kind, I'm not really perceived as a full member. I try everywhere to find my place, and I think writing has fixed this corner for me.

Before I'll read the short poem I’ve prepared for this nice event, I have one last story for you. Just before my first book was published, I happened to meet one of my professors from university. He asked me what I was doing these days and I, full of pride and self-importance, said, "I'm counting." (In Hebrew, I actually also said that I'm a writer.) It was the beginning of the year, so he told me "Ha, inventory counts..."


My poem is called SOFERET (counting/writer)




I love numbers
I enjoy counting
I like to make a calculation
I know it doesn't sound exciting.


When I run numbers in my head
all the other things just get along.
Instead of taking a calming pill
I solve a math exercise
In a world of exercises and equations
there is no room for many mistakes.


In real life, however
I don't have such an easy life
In stark contrast to numbers,
Humans are totally unexpected beings
It is impossible to organize them in uniform formulae and laws…


Cash flow statements
never blow up on my nerves.
Confirmation of withholding tax
would never overtake me in line,
and income tax reconciliation reports
won't ever think I'm a weirdo.


For years I've been doing the same job
and some may raise an eyebrow.
Everyone around me dreams of being managers
And only I want to continue playing with the numbers.


I don't care about salary or rank
Love to live at peace with myself
Feel like an alien
On a secret espionage mission.
For years after, people, I follow.
And now I also write about you.





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