Garden of the Poets

An Israeli radio station beamed to you from inner-city Miami

These are Yemini's "poems," which are the staple of his show along with his interviews. Occasionally poem and interview converge, leaving unprepared guests (he interviewed Elie Wiesel once) wondering, perhaps, what they've gotten themselves into. And yet — precisely because they are so unconventional — Yemini's broadcasts are charming and sometimes powerful.

One of his favorite interviews, he says, was with a fellow named James Brown who had spent time in prison. Yemini plays a recording of the encounter. When he asks about Brown's career as a robber, the latter responds, "I had a little gang. We'd get together, take money from other people, take money from cash registers, and then go back to school, and take the honeys — girls that we liked — out to lunch."

"So you'd spend money on them, so they'd give you the honey, eh?" Yemini asks, laughing.

Yemini and Brown had met on a corner and become close friends. Brown had AIDS and his health was declining. "I'm sorry this illness knock you down," Yemini comments in the interview.

"That's why I step in the Garden. It keeps the body circulating. You might have pain, but once you come in the garden, all pain relief," Brown says.

Over the years Yemini has befriended a number of troubled people. "He likes to help people," Shula explains, pausing before adding, "He thinks that he can help them get rid of drugs and alcohol. I think he cannot."

Six months ago Brown died from AIDS. "I never aired the last interview I did with him," Yemini says. "But I did a great memorial show for him on the radio."

On a recent Saturday night, Yemini sits inside the small studio trying to install a new audio receiver. Easing himself onto the floor, he carefully plugs in the device. Then, politely refusing help, he grabs the arm of his chair, does a pull-up, and slowly plops back into his seat.

"Can't get too heavy, you know?" he says cheerfully. "Can't let things get too lazy."

While a song plays on the air, Yemini turns to the computer and opens up a digital map of the world covered in yellow lights, representing listeners around the world. Most are concentrated in the United States and Europe, but there are some in South America, Australia, Africa, and especially the Middle East. Somewhere off Madagascar, a single, solitary light blinks: "Look, he's swimming in the middle of the ocean," Yemini says merrily. "Wow!"

Indeed, as Yemini turns down the music and begins speaking, instant text messages pop up — some in English, some Hebrew, some Arabic — greeting him. A few minutes later his cell phone rings, and he answers in his usual way: "Life is good!"

"What, you get a baby?" he says into the phone after a minute. "Oh, a boy, okay ... don't send him to the army!" he chuckles and hangs up.

"A listener," he explains.

Then the phone rings again. "Hello," answers Yemini, "Life is good!"

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