Poems by Dara Barnat; Translations by Sabine Huynh:


We must choose each other
again and again.

The feeling is a brilliant fish
you catch a thousand times.

We must carry each other
like smooth stones
in the palms of our hands –

a familiar feel,
a roundness.


Un poisson moiré
Se choisir l’un l’autre, s’y reprendre
à plusieurs fois.

Cet émoi ressenti face à un poisson moiré
qu’on pourrait attraper des milliers de fois.

tels des galets lisses
dans le creux de la paume –

toucher familier,


Her wide hips remind me
that I was born,
because in photos at twenty
they are still narrow
and slim.

Bending over
and planting roses
she gathers immense joy
from the dirty pebbles
and the new petals.

I hold her basket
like a daughter should
and almost pretend
to smile and be grateful
for the fresh, ripened tomatoes.

Is it with age
that happiness can be found
in growing mint
and drinking ice water
that has collected tiny bugs?

My mother shares soap
with a man who is not my father
but a good man,
waiting inside
to make our sauce.

The basket is now full
and since her joy
takes up the whole garden
there is no room
for my joy.

But she says daughter,
you will have your own life,
and your own garden,
just pray for rain,
and grow your vegetables.


Ses hanches généreuses
me rappellent ma naissance
– dans des photos d’elle à vingt ans
elles sont encore étroites
elle est encore mince.

sur les roses mises en terre
elle recueille une joie immense
des cailloux sales
et des jeunes pétales.

Je lui tiens son panier
telle une fille dévouée
et réussis presque
à sourire de gratitude
pour ces tomates mûres.

Est-ce avec l’âge
que l’on trouve du bonheur
à faire pousser de la menthe
à boire de l’eau glacée
où surnagent des petites bêtes?

Ma mère partage son savon
avec un homme qui n’est pas
mon père, un homme bon,
il attend à l’intérieur
de préparer notre sauce.

Le panier est plein
la joie de ma mère
remplit le jardin
plus de place
pour la mienne.

Alors elle me dit : tu sais ma fille,
tu auras ta propre vie
et ton propre jardin,
prie pour qu’il pleuve
et cultive ton potager.


No one is here, just me,
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I recite a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together
in another life.


Comment prier
pour toi ? Personne

ici, moi
seule. Je ferme

les yeux, tente de voir
ton visage,

sa lumière, tes doigts,

ton rire,
la légèreté. Je récite une prière

qui est mienne:
Puissions-nous vivre

mille ans ensemble
dans une autre vie.

Today’s poems are from Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads, published by Recours au poème éditeurs (2014), and appear here today with permission from the poet.

Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads is a bilingual collection of poems by the American poet Dara Barnat, translated to French by Sabine Huynh. Dara Barnat explores migration (between New York, where she was raised, and Tel Aviv, her adopted city), the experience of being an English-language poet in Tel Aviv, intimate familial relationships, her father’s long illness and passing, as well as secrets, history, and memory. Loss is certainly at the core of the poems; although she succeeds in guiding her readers to comfort, even joy, with wisdom she has learned from enduring grief. In the last poem of the book, the speaker addresses her father in the afterlife, and they are both happy to be “alive.” This exhilarating vision demonstrates how Walt Whitman informs the poet’s elegies. She imagines herself walking down the street with Whitman. It is also not surprising to encounter Emily Dickinson or Robert Frost, since the power of Dara Barnat’s poetry resides in its capacity to observe our solitude with grace and honesty.

Dara Barnat was born in 1979. Her poetry appears widely in journals in the United States and Israel. She is the author of the chapbook Headwind Migration (2009), as well as poetry translations and scholarly essays. Dara holds a Ph.D. from the School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. Her dissertation explored Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetics. She teaches poetry and creative writing.

Sabine Huynh was born in 1972. She holds a Ph.D. in Linguistics (Hebrew University of Jerusalem), has authored poetry and prose books (novel, short stories, academic book, literary essay, diary), and has edited an anthology of modern French poetry, which were published by Galaade Editions, Voix d’encre, La Porte, éditions, Recours au poème éditeurs, E-Fractions Editions, among other French publishers. She writes in English and French, translates daily, occasionally teaches creative writing classes, and regularly contributes to the French literary journals Terre à ciel, Terres de femmes, and Recours au poème. Her website:

Editor’s Note: The opening poem in Dara Barnat’s debut collection begins, “Please know that taut, / invisible threads / tethered us / to those years.” Threads that bind the speaker to mother and home, to father and illness, to time, to what comes into being and what inevitably slips away. And so Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads invites us into a deeply personal yet resonant world of life and death, love and loss, relationship and the human experience.

Nestled within the honest, reflective, beautiful lyric of these poems are the moments poetry was made for: “maybe / we should part now, because oceans / dry up in time, / even the whitest bones / turn to ash.” Equally powerful are so many of the poems’ closing stanzas and end-lines: “daughter, / you will have your own life, / and your own garden, / just pray for rain, and grow your vegetables;” “May we live // a thousand years together / in another life.”

Throughout the book we are welcomed into a private, sacred space. Into kitchens and gardens, hospitals and homelands. We are invited to bake bread and receive intimate moments like sacrament. Crossing the wide span between memory and horizon, Taut, Invisible Threads is like a migrating bird that “fights the seasons, / and lands wherever / there are seeds, / water, and soft earth, // until it arrives.”

I wish that I were well-versed in French and thereby able to comment on the translations by Sabine Huynh housed within this moving bilingual collection. Falling far short of that wish, I can only say that I have had the pleasure of hearing the translator read some of her poetry translations aloud in French, and it was a transformative experience. Her voice is emboldened by its quiet humility, and the passion she has for translation is well-known amongst the numerous writers who seek to have their work translated by this gifted writer and translator.

I have had the pleasure of featuring both Dara Barnat and Sabine Huynh on this series, and am thrilled to see these two incredibly talented writers and translators brought together in one stunning collection. This book—and this collaboration—is a gift to the poetry world that should be read, shared, and celebrated.

Want to see more by Dara Barnat?
Buy Des liens invisibles, tendus / Taut, Invisible Threads from Recours au poème éditeurs
Dara Barnat’s Official Website
Dara Barnat’s Official Blog
“At Least Forward Now” in Haaretz




by Okla Elliott

During Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, he once discussed immigration by saying that we ought to be less worried about immigrants learning English and more worried about whether our children are learning Spanish. He must have known he’d wandered into unsafe territory, because he immediately began enumerating the business advantages your children would have if they were bilingual. (It is always safe in American discourse to return to how something might make money.) Obama was attacked by Democrats and Republicans alike for daring to utter the unthinkable—that Americans need to be learning foreign languages.

As I write this, I am in Montréal, a city that has achieved nearly seamless bilingualism. Depending on the neighborhood, most signs, menus, etc are written in both French and English, and you can order at most places of business in either language. I don’t mean to suggest there aren’t tensions between those who consider their mother tongue French and those who consider it English. There are. Famously so. And one of my instructors, Jessy, at the language institute where I’m studying admitted to being reluctant to read Canadian literature in English (though she also happens to be nearly fluent in English, which indicates her resistance to the language isn’t total, and she seemed embarrassed to admit to reading only francophone literature).  And Jessy isn’t alone in her ambivalence. There’s a referendum every few years for Québec to secede from the rest of Canada, but it is always defeated, and largely because of the huge population in Montréal which always votes en masse to remain part of the larger country.

But there’s the brighter, almost ideal side. You walk up Rue St Laurent, lined with hipster bars and nice restaurants, and you’ll hear the people at one table speaking in French while those at the adjacent table speak English. My favorite scene, which I’ve seen play out several times in my few weeks here, is when a group of people is speaking one language, then someone shows up who is less proficient in that language (usually an English speaker, sadly), and the group simply shifts to the new person’s language of comfort.  It’s a seamless transition, and no one is put out by it.  For lack of a better word, I always think how civilized this is.

Those people in the US who are worried that English will disappear are either willfully ignorant or just insane.  English enjoys not only the 4th largest native speaker population on the planet but is also by far the most common 2nd language learned.  I’m sorry, but every time I hear someone bemoan the rise of Spanish as a second language in the US, I hear laziness or mindless nationalism.  There is absolutely no downside to learning another language, while there are numerous upsides.

But the paranoiac fear isn’t abating. Nowhere is this made more visible than on the US-Mexico border with the fervor for fence-building and of volunteers toting shotguns, excessive in their eagerness to “defend our borders” (from what, I always wonder, hard workers with a drive for self-improvement?).  William T Vollmann’s new book, Imperial, which will be released next month, is a 1,300-page nonfiction exploration of Imperial County, California, where many immigrants who have died in the journey across the border are buried.  There’s an excellent New York Times article about Vollmann and his new book here.

But instead of seeing the ugliness nationalism can cause and instead of embracing the positive aspects of bi- and multilingualism, many Americans are doing just the opposite.  Arizona, Idaho, and Iowa have all recently passed English-only laws, and Oklahoma is poised to vote on an English-only referendum on the 2010 ballot, one which is expected to pass by a large margin.

But what are the advantages of multilingualism?, one might ask.  Aside from Obama’s aforementioned job opportunities, which certainly exist, there are the joys other languages bring.  There is nothing like being in a foreign country and speaking the language.  The experience is so much richer, I have basically foregone visiting countries whose languages in which I don’t at least have some proficiency.  Language is so often the vehicle for culture, and there is simply no way to appreciate another culture without understanding its language.

But there are more immediate ones as well. The CIA has recently been running ads in an attempt to recruit Americans with foreign language skills.  Apparently less than 20% of the CIA staff has proficiency in a foreign language.  Pause for a moment and take that in.  Less than 20% of our international intelligence gathering organ speaks a foreign language.  Mama Elliott didn’t raise no geniuses, but I see how this might be a problem.  Now, I tend to think that most of what the CIA does adds to the misery in the world, so its being hindered in any way might be good in the long run, but there is an old Polish saying: “Know the languages of your friends well, but know the languages of your enemies better.”  Here, even the security-crazed people of this country have to admit that learning Arabic, Farsi, Korean, etc might prove useful.

But I’m less interested in talk of enemies, and I would like to rephrase that Polish saying to: “Learn the languages of your enemies in order to make them your friends.”  I remember when I was an undergrad and preparing for my first academic study abroad to Germany, I was required to attend several information sessions.  At one of them, the goals of the program were laid out, and one of them was world peace.  I thought, “Huh?  How can my improving my understanding of the dative case in German alter international relations?”  The counselor explained that people are less likely to support a war against a country if they’ve lived there or speak the language, and that the kinds of cultural misunderstandings that can lead to less than diplomatic solutions can be obviated if we have enough people here who know firsthand how to navigate those cultural waters.

The advantages, both large and small, are legion.

There are many jobs in legal, technological, governmental, and medical fields that require knowledge of foreign languages.  Studies show that studying a foreign language can reduce the chances of dementia in old age, can improve children’s comprehension of their native language, and even increase a person’s IQ.  There are the interpersonal benefits.  I can’t help but notice the tens of millions of Spanish speakers in world and can’t help but be happy that I have the means to communicate with them. Likewise with French; when I look at a linguistic map of Africa, my heart fairly flutters with possibility.  There are advantages for the activist-minded, such as Habitat for Humanity, Peace Corps, Doctors without Borders, etc.

And on, and on . . .

If being in Montréal has taught me anything, it’s that bi- and multilingualism can work and can have a hugely positive effect on a culture and business community.  It’s not a perfect model, but those tend not to exist in the real world.  It is, however, a hopeful example of what certain US cities could become or already are becoming, if only we embrace it fully and encourage it with the proper institutions and attitude.

Further Reading:

The Undividing Line Between Literary and Political by Okla Elliott, 7/15/09