SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GILI HAIMOVICH


AND THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SOFTNESS
By Gili Haimovich

People are still flirting
with trying to look younger,
to make each other laugh.
Their existence is softened
by the luxuries of having some time, some needs, met.
People are still eager,
not too tired of being keen,
I have found out
among the snow banks,
pushing
the stroller of my soft new baby.



Today’s poem appears here today with permission from the poet.

Gili Haimovich is an international poet and translator who writes in both Hebrew and English. She has six volumes of poetry in Hebrew, including her most recent, Landing Lights (Iton 77 Publishing House), which received a grant from Acum, as did her previous book. She also received a grant nominating her as an outstanding artist by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption on 2015. Her poetry in English is featured in her chapbook, Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008) and in numerous journals and anthologies, such as Poetry International, International Poetry Review, Poem Magazine, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Asymptote, Drain Magazine, Blue Lyra, Circumference, TOK1: Writing the New Toronto and Mediterranean Poetry, as well as main Israeli journals and anthologies such as The Most Beautiful Poems in Hebrew (Yedioth Ahronot Books, 2013). Her poems have been translated into several languages including Chinese, French, Italian, Bengali, and Romanian. Gili is also presenting her work as a photographer, teaches creative writing, and facilitates writing focused arts therapy.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem excels in the realm of wordplay. Double entendres luxuriate in a language that is as rich as it is simple, as straightforward as it is complex. The poet’s clear love of language — the sheer joy of it — culminates in a narrative of the unexpected, in a revelation that demands we enter the poem again and consider it anew. Delicate and layered, this poem is a labor of love that offers the reader the fruits of its bounty.

Want to read more by and about Gili Haimovich?
Poetry International Rotterdam
Mediterranean Poetry
Drain Magazine
Taylor & Frances Online
PoetryOn – Gili Haimovich’s Official Website

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ALEX BEN-ARI

alex-ben-ari


I ASK FORGIVENESS
By Alex Ben-Ari
Translated by Vivan Eden


I ask forgiveness of all the poems
Born misshapen because of my desire to write them
I ask forgiveness of all the people
Whose lives were disrupted by my desire to influence
And of the world
For the superfluous things added to it
And those unnecessarily severed
Because of my lust for symmetry
And happy endings.

I ask forgiveness of my mother
For not knowing how to love her in her misery
Of my children
For the moments when I don’t want them
Of my wife for every time I was too small
To contain her love.

I am lighter than a falling leaf
I am softer than grass
Now a small bird could
Build its nest in me.



Today’s poem originally appeared in Haaretz and appears here today with permission from both the poet and translator.


Alex Ben-Ari is 43 years old. His debut volume of poetry, Concealed Seas (Yamim Samuiim), was awarded honorable mention at the 2008 Metulla Poetry Festival and the 2015 Helicon/Ramy Ditzanny Poetry Prize. His second book, The Gatepost (Korat Hasha’ar), published in 2015, is composed of his original Hebrew haiku. His third book, planned to be published during 2017, is a volume of conceptual poetry.
Alex is one of the six members of the “Waning Moon” blog and publishing house dedicated to Haiku in Hebrew. He is also co-editor (with poets Gilad Meiri and Noa Shkargy) of Nanopoetica, a literary journal of short form literature.

Editor’s Note: Part personal, part pastoral, part ars poetica, today’s poem is emotive, honest, and raw. The poem’s I approaches the reader — and the page — seeking forgiveness. Free from false modesty, free from pride, the poem’s I is humble, admitting failings as poet and father, husband and son. The confessional, narrative nature of the poem is carefully constructed within the framework of the lyric, while the elegant, gentle translation midwives the essence of the poem as it crosses the borders of language. As the reader, we cannot help but be moved — to compassion, to transcendence, to forgiveness and beyond.

Want more from Alex Ben-Ari?
“Ripe Peach,” a poem from Concealed Seas (bi-lingual version)
Haiku poems from The Gatepost (bi-lingual)
Alex Ben-Ari’s official blog (Hebrew)
Ben-Ari lectures (in Hebrew) on music covers
Alex Ben-Ari on Twitter

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DECENCY


Decency


From DECENCY
By Marcela Sulak:


selections from SOLIDARITY

vi. Virginity

It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing,
starts to disappear you.

Your parents phone you at college to ask: how is your virginity
doing? Did your virginity have a good day?

What does it want to be when it grows up? Your virginity sounds
a little sad this morning. What kind of cake does your virginity want

for its birthday? your girlfriends saw the most amazing shoes
that your virginity would look terrific in!

Want to go shopping? your boyfriends—would your virginity like to see
a movie? What about dinner?


ix. witches

My daughter is named for my grandmother, a midwife
who attended the births of 90 babies in rural Texas

before they had cars and after they finished having witches
but before there were doctors. Now you may understand

what I mean when I say another woman
gave my daughter a book called “The witches and the rabbi”

for her birthday. Here is the plot: a village is terrorized by a plague
of witches who fly from their cave when the moon is full,

on brooms through the sky except when it’s raining. I’m not sure
what the witches actually do to the village, since no one

actually goes outside on those nights. Gary, Indiana, could use
an infestation of witches—no stabbings

or gunshot wounds on evenings of full moons.
But one full moon when it is raining the rabbi shows up

with twenty townsmen. The witches
are so delighted they make them a feast of all the good things

they have. The rabbi tricks them into dancing with him and
the vigilante men, out into the rain,

which kills them. I knew her father’s mother was secretly
glad when I started to hemorrhage. She didn’t want me

to have a homebirth with a midwife.
“What kind of rabbis are these?”

Says my rabbi, stopped by for a quick hello. My daughter
wanted to show him that we had a book about rabbis. “They’re

engaging the poor witches
in mixed dancing and leading them astray,” he says.

This is the broom which sweeps the sky of the stars you have
to be too drunk to write about, as Daisy put it.

This is the housework the princesses do disguised
as village maidens. These are the constellations that form

in the shadow of the stars.
Silent are the women in the village

who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent
when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.



CHOCOLATE

The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate
in black and silver paper. Once I saw cacao pods
drying in a Venezuelan village square

during Easter week; through the open church doors, peeling saints sniffed
        and were carried
like colicky children through night streets. The local hot chocolate
was thickened with cornmeal and canella bark

somebody tore from the trees. To reach that village we found a fisherman,
        plowed
through rows of porpoises, then hiked five kilometers
inland through banana and cocoa trees,

which like shade. Once only men could drink
chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency,
to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute. It feels good to imagine a single seed,

hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue
curled, gathering the strength to push. The Aztec king discarded
each gold-hammered cup after its initial use; his chocolate was red as fresh
        blood.

He was a god to them. It was frothy,
poured from great heights. When we bathed in the village river, girls
gathered around me, whispering, why is your skin so pale? Why is your
        hair so straight?

Can we braid it? Dime, eres blanca?
The judge, our lawyers, her father, and I decided the fate
of my child. The dark liquid we poured was ink, initialing our little
        negotiations.

Who can know the heart of another, the blood
spiced with memory, poured from one generation to the next
over great distances? The Mayan word for chocolate means bitter. The
        village

used to be a plantation; now it is a co-operative, owned by descendants
of the former slaves. At Easter Vigil the women lined up
behind the most beautiful, in a long sky

-blue dress adorned with gold stars. Between the decades of the rosary she
        called out,
while we shuffled our feet in merengue beat, bearing the saints
through the streets, someone shot off a Roman

candle. The men’s procession paused for rum. I know I’ll be paying for it
        the rest
of my life. The Mayan word means bitter water. The cacao
tree was uprooted from paradise.



HOW TO USE A NAPKIN

Understand the napkin
has been unnecessary
for most of human history.

Understand the world is filled with people
eager to bend
things to their will.
We shall practice on the napkin.
When you have finished eating
place your napkin loosely
next to your plate
.

It should not be crumpled or twisted,
which would reveal untidiness or nervousness;
nor should it be folded,

which might be seen as an implication
that you think your hosts
might reuse it without washing
.
.
It is a delicate affair.
Don’t argue with me
said my husband

who had called for my advice
about the apartment he was renting
when he didn’t want to live with me.

It is largely
symbolic today
except for barbecues.
Lightly dab the lips.

I suspect the word
argue is the space
in the mouth for things
to come apart in.

The napkin must not be left
on the chair, it might seem
as if you have an inappropriately

dirty napkin to hide
or even that you are trying
to run off with the table linens.

It takes great trust
to use a napkin.
It takes an act
of faith to leave
the table.



Today’s poems are from Decency (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Marcela Sulak, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Decency: Poetry. Jewish Studies. Women’s Studies. Decency celebrates the spunky wenches, the unfortunate queens, the complicated translators, the wistful wives who have been hustled off the spotlit stages of history. Through the lens of Victorian manuals of etiquette, through the unfolding of religion from the Middle East to the American Southwest, Decency thinks through the brutal things we do to one another, recording the ways the individual operates in relation to society’s mores and harms. From the Sumerian queen Puabi to contemporary female recruits to the Israeli intelligence’s “Honeytrap” operation, Decency is a mix of the documentary and the lyrical, the wrathful and the joyful.


Marcela Sulak‘s poetry collections include Decency (2015) and Immigrant (2010), both with Black Lawrence Press. She’s translated four collections of poetry from the Czech and French, and, most recently, the Hebrew: Orit Gidali’s Selected Poems: Twenty Girls to Envy Me (University of Texas Press, July 2016). She’s co-edited the 2015 Rose Metal Press title Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. Sulak directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University. ​​


Editor’s Note: If there is a question driving the poems in Marcela Sulak’s sophomore collection, it is a question of the ways in which we are and are not decent to one another. As individuals and as countries. As intimates and strangers. Both within and across the (real or artificial) divides of race, creed, culture, and nationality. Sulak pursues the answers to this question with the keen eye of an academic and a researcher, then relays her observations and discoveries with the skilled and deliberate abandon of an artist. These questions of decency are considered and depicted through the lenses of history, relationship, and etiquette. The result is a brave yet dainty collection. A powerful yet vulnerable collage. A work that charms the reader with its quaintness so that its harsh truths and difficult revelations go down like chocolate–bitter yet sweet, delicate yet bold.

Among the many long poems in this collection is one that stopped me in my tracks when I heard the poet read it aloud at the book’s New York launch last year. “Solidarity” is a stunning inquiry into rape–its ramifications and its afterlife and the endless experiences that collide with sexual violence in concentric circles. Today, for example, are Sulak’s reflections on misogyny and witch hunts, virginity and agency. Of virginity she writes, “It’s not that you get tired, it’s that it starts to be the only thing, / starts to disappear you.” Determined that her daughter know the truth about the history of hysteria, misogyny, and women healers, she considers witches through the skewed twin lenses of history and scaremongering: “Silent are the women in the village // who took their cloth packets of herbs and were silent / when their husbands rushed off to kill the witches in that story.” If I could have, I would have reprinted this long poem in its entirety. But then, you really ought to buy the book so that you can read this breathtaking work for yourself.

Throughout this masterful collection the poet’s own experiences are coupled with the larger lenses of the book–history and etiquette, for example–so that what is gleaned by the reader is at once deeply personal and delightfully educational. “The day I won the custody case my lawyer gave me a bitter chocolate,” Sulak writes of her unique experience, then later, in the same poem, writes of the history of chocolate: “Once only men could drink / chocolate. Women were permitted cacao beans as currency, / to buy meat or slaves or pay tribute.” Yet these ideas are not disparate; they are finely woven together by the poet’s skilled hand. The genius of this interrelation is beautifully evidenced by moments like this, in a poem that appears to be about the history of the napkin, but is equally about the poet’s leaving her husband: “It takes great trust / to use a napkin. / It takes an act / of faith to leave / the table.” The art of the poem–like the collection that houses it–is enriched beyond experience and information by a powerful lyric: “It feels good to imagine a single seed, // hidden in the forbidden mouth, the tongue / curled, gathering the strength to push.”


Want to see more from Marcela Sulak?
Marcela Sulak Official Website
“Jerusalem” in the Cortland Review
Decency” and “Raspberry” in Haaretz
Buy Decency from Black Lawrence Press, Book Depository, or Amazon

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: RIVER ELECTRIC WITH LIGHT

river-electric-with-light


From RIVER ELECTRIC WITH LIGHT
By Sarah Wetzel:


A WORSHIP OF RIVERS

If I must choose a word for you,
let it be river. Not the river’s smoothed banks
that, like skin, give form
to breath and blood, the throb
of twenty trillion red cells wildly
ferrying their burdens.
If I must choose a word for you,
let it be the word
for what flows. Down one river,
a ruined house, down another,
eight empty boats bobbing. Inside a ninth,
there is a girl on her knees, knife
in hand. A kind of river
is running through her.
Because the worship of rivers
is also the worship of a chimney
for smoke, the needle its thread
as it closes the wound, of the wire
for its extra electron.
Because all three are worships
of motion, which is why
I race after rainclouds and trains, the postman
and bicycle messengers. Why I think
wind speaks to me. You,
you don’t speak. Yet you take
whatever I throw in. Which is why
I will always live close to water
but never again by the sea
from which everything eventually
finds its way shore again—
arthritic driftwood, the bones
of dogfish and dogs, and Mr. Levi,
the wristwatch still on his wrist. Which is why
I believe the girl puts down the knife
and she rises, the river
                                          electric with light.



THIRD VERSION

The rain leaves fingerprints
in last summer’s
window dust,

while just off shore, anchored
and waiting,
the barge that will ferry the lucky.

In one version of my story,
I sell my hair
and the good skin of my stomach.

In one version, I carry you
from the burning car
and this time you don’t die.

The sea with the rubber hose of a river
down its throat
is swallowing as fast as it can.

If you watch long enough, you’ll see that rain
shapes a path in the pane
for what falls behind it—

yet if you put a hand
to the glass,
the water will fall toward you.

Our lives are always half over.
There’s still time.



SAYING JERUSALEM

It’s become tricky to talk about Jerusalem
these days. Tricky, that is, without saying
cinnamon trees and narrow alleys, overfed
sparrows
, or Hasidic boys in metal spectacles.

I’ve nothing to say about trees or sparrows
or quaint Jerusalem characters, mustached men
selling talismans. Why don’t you like Arabs,
one asked, when I tried to bargain. Some Israelis joke

all we really need is Tel Aviv and the freeway
to Ben Gurion airport. Let the Arabs and fanatics
fight over everything else. From the roof
of my Tel Aviv house, I can sometimes glimpse

Jerusalem, the gleaming tip of al-Haram ash-Sharif.
Let them have everything else. Everything.



Today’s poems are from River Electric With Light (Red Hen Press, 2015), copyright © 2015 by Sarah Wetzel, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



River Electric With Light: Sarah Wetzel’s stunning second collection of poems, River Electric with Light, is a work of pilgrimage, a work in search of the sacred and the spiritually significant. Touching down in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Kabul, New York, and Rome, Wetzel’s poems, ranging from lyric meditations to discursive drama, weave themselves from her life as wife, lover, stepmother, and traveler. She names the force propelling her River—“If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows,” she writes. At times joyful, at times grief-ridden, Wetzel’s poems accumulate associatively pulling slivers of secular solace from a world where violence infuses the body, the landscape, and even dreams, recognizing that while: “Our lives are always half over. / There’s still time.” – See more at Red Hen Press


Sarah Wetzel is the author of River Electric with Light, which won the AROHO Poetry Publication Prize and was published by Red Hen Press in 2015, and Bathsheba Transatlantic, which won the Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and was published in 2010. Sarah currently teaches creative writing at The American University of Rome, Italy. She still spends a lot of time on planes, however, dividing time between Manhattan, Rome, and Tel Aviv, Israel. Sarah holds an engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a MBA from the University of California, Berkeley. More importantly for her poetry, Sarah completed a MFA in Creative Writing at Bennington College in January 2009. You can read samples of her work at www.sarahwetzel.com. ​​


Editor’s Note: Sarah Wetzel’s River Electric With Light is enigmatic, transversive, transformative. There is a motion within its pages–between sections and poems, between concepts and experiences–that is reminiscent of the Italian notion of attraversiamo; crossing over, moving on, getting to another place. Be it that of the smallest rain drop or the greatest ocean, be it that of trains, planes, or automobiles, this collection is electric with movement, even in its deepest and most sacred moments of quiet contemplation.

There is water–and the life water ensures–running through this book. Rivers that carry words, ideas, people. “If I must choose a word for you, / let it be the word / for what flows.” And along with this motion comes an unsettled feeling underlying the life of these poems: “Which is why / I will always live close to water / but never again by the sea.”

This collection hums with a delicate, thoughtful lyricism that lulls the reader so that we float along easily–though shifting locales, through political commentary, through mindful meditations on religion, relationship, life and death. Never set or singular–because life is never as black and white as one experience or perspective–we are reminded that “Our lives are always half over,” but, in the same breath, “There’s still time.”


Want to see more from Sarah Wetzel?
Superstition Review
Poetrynet.org
Ilanot Review
Recours au Poeme

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: OLAM, SHANA, NEFESH

Etching on chapbook cover by Andi Arnovitz

Etching on chapbook cover by Andi Arnovitz

From OLAM SHANA NEFESH
By Jane Medved:


SIRENS

They think it is the young girls singing
you see, we pull them to us as smoothly

as oiled rope uncurls into golden braids.
It only takes a few minutes before everything

they see is woman. The pale skin of the sails
spreading like thighs, the thick knots

that tie the anchor turning to strands
of dampened hair held by a lover

before she shakes it free. The salt tastes
as sweet as sweat and soon the ship’s thrust

into the sea becomes unbearable.
This would be enough for galley slaves,

soldiers who tattoo fortunes on their scars,
the simple, parched sailors. But they are not

the ones we want. When we see the heroes
whose fierce deeds fall like hammers, we lay

aside our nocturne of desire. We sing instead
as a mother holds a dying child until

the horizon is the circle of our arms, the wind
a cloth wrapping them in its whisper, the waves

a gentle hush upon each creaking of the deck.
“Do not be afraid. You will be remembered and reborn.”



WHITE FIRE

There is a cable and it reaches
from the side of loving kindness

to the cold window across the room
taking over the function of your heart

which is tired of trying to make blood
out of air. Some days it’s just too hard

to keep on lifting, to appear in a robe
which keeps on falling, exposing

all sorts of intimate matters and the
little whispers beneath. Do not worry.

You are the hand, the page, the white fire
and you cannot be erased. The black letters

will burn and sing and declare themselves
but they are nothing without your silence;

which is not the absence of words, empty
as the howl of a bowl, but the promise made

between all words before they are spoken,
that they will reach across the black lines

and know each other again, even
if they no longer recognize themselves.



LEAVING A NOTE AT THE WESTERN WALL

There is a splintered door leading
nowhere and a lot of women crying
today I can’t even get near the wall.
Luckily I have my own tricks.
I place my arm over a young girl’s shoulder,
sigh sympathetically as she bends
her head in prayer, then edge myself
into her space. Everyone wants to touch
God’s face, to press their forehead
against his slippery cheek and brush
the pitted marks beneath, thank you
for my eyes, my legs, my arms, my breath
.
Herod did a good job, the ancient stones
hold solid. They outweigh the base
of the great pyramids and nothing moves
them, perhaps they are even held up
by pleading, since every crack is filled
with scraps of blue-lined paper, torn
index cards, a piece of yellow legal pad,
a folded napkin, sealed envelopes, airmail,
express, please, listen, thank you for my eyes,
my legs, my arms, my breath, excuse me
,
a woman pushes past me, excuse me please,
when she reaches for the wall a handful
of notes loosen and fall at our feet.
The chair behind me is piled with prayers
as morning, evening and darkness
make their requests, songs from the sons
of Korach even though their father moans
in the earth thank you for my arms,
my legs, my eyes, my breath
, women beg
the matriarchs and children press letters
into fists of stone while God sends back his answers
– No and no and no.



Today’s poems are from Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014), copyright © 2014 by Jane Medved, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



Olam, Shana, Nefesh: “‘Olam, Shana, Nefesh’ is a Kabbalistic phrase used to describe the three dimensions of Place, Time and Person. Olam is most commonly translated as ‘world.’ But in Hebrew olam comes from the root of the word ‘hidden.’ This implies that place always has an unrevealed element to it; that we are surrounded by a reality beyond what is immediately visible. Shana literally means ‘year.’ It invokes an image of repetition, re-visiting, return, a never -ending cycle of months. In the Jewish calendar time is not a passive backdrop to human endeavor, but an active force whose windows of opportunity open and close, blossom and die just like the seasons. Nefesh can be translated as ‘person’ but it refers to the spirit as well as the body; the infusion of the divine into the physical. This is an inherently volatile combination, since a human being always contains a push and pull between the material and the spiritual, the body with its appetites and fears and the spirit. This is ‘person’ as the container of the animal and the divine.” – From Olam, Shana, Nefesh (Finishing Line Press, 2014)


Jane Medved is the poetry editor of the Ilanot Review, the on-line literary magazine of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv. Her chapbook, Olam, Shana, Nefesh, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Her recent essays and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Lilith Magazine, Mudlark, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly and New American Writing. A native of Chicago, Illinois, she has lived for the last 25 years in Jerusalem, Israel.


Editor’s Note: Olam, Shana, Nefesh is an absolutely stunning collection. A rare assortment of meditations on myth and history, religion, spirituality, sensuality, gender and place. The questions posed are epic, the answers as small and as critical as breath. The poems themselves are absolutely gorgeous in their own right; lyric delights that any reader would feel indulgent slipping into, with moments like “The salt tastes / as sweet as sweat and soon the ship’s thrust // into the sea becomes unbearable,” “The black letters // will burn and sing and declare themselves / but they are nothing without your silence,” and “Everyone wants to touch / God’s face.” But this book is even more rewarding for those readers familiar with the rich landscapes the poems call and respond to. How rewarding is “Sirens” for those well-versed in Greek mythology, how brilliant “White Fire” for those who know and love midrash, and how masterful “Leaving a Note at the Western Wall” for students of religion and history, for Jewish women, for those who have been to Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, who have “press[ed] their forehead[s]/ against [God’s] slippery cheek and brush[ed] / the pitted marks beneath, [saying] thank you / for my eyes, my legs, my arms, my breath.”


Want to see more from Jane Medved?
Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Lilith Magazine
Buy Olam, Shana, Nefesh from Amazon

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: KAREN ALKALAY-GUT

karen2014


By Karen Alkalay-Gut:


HER STORY

I have never been able to tell her story
Sometimes it escapes me, sometimes I am not sure
It could really have happened, sometimes I read
Different accounts of her demise, or a paragraph
From some testimony jogs my memory and the terrible days
When I first heard what happened to her return.

This much is in my blood:
I was conceived on the day she died.
This much is in my blood.
She blew up trains.
The courage came from her uplifted chin
And the two infants she watched
Dashed against the wall of their home.
Avram twelve months old and Masha two years.
My first cousins.
They too – in my blood – all that is left.

If I can write of these babies,
I can manage the rest –
Following her path as she escaped
The prison camp with her husband
And joined the Otrianski Otriade
Lenin Brigade, Lipinskana Forest.

I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped
As she bends over the delicate mines,
Solemn as in the photo when as a child
She sat for with the rest of the choir
Unsmiling amid the festive singers
Unwilling perhaps to feel poetic joy
Perhaps destined for so much more.

There are at least three accounts of her death:
The partisan Abba Kovner told me she was caught
In a mission and hung. He looked away when he spoke,
Not piercing me as always with his tragic eyes,
And I knew there was more he would not say.

Another book says she lagged behind the platoon
Escaping an attack, perhaps pregnant,
And was imprisoned in Zhedtl.
The jail was ignited, perhaps by accident,
And she was just one of the victims.

When mother first told me the story
She had just heard at the hairdresser’s,
I must have been fifteen, and outraged
That she was weeping, tears
Rolling down her face. She knew
All I cared for was my own life,
And her latest discovery
Of the fate of her youngest sister
A disruption.
But who else could she tell?

The loft in the barn, she said,
They were hiding there – three women,
Her husband and her. They came
And set the barn afire. He helped
The women first, and his wife came last
But didn’t come, was burnt alive.

Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives
Malcah who was waiting for them
When the ship brought them back to Danzig
After they were barred from the Holy Land,
Who found them the agricultural visas to England
And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.
But there is no real story.
All that remains is a faded snapshot
A few sentences in unread memorial tomes,
And me, who cannot tell any story for sure.


Today’s poem was originally published in Prairie Schooner and appears here with permission from the poet.


Karen Alkalay-Gut is now easing out of a fifty-year academic career at Tel Aviv University and beginning to concentrate on writing. Born in London during World War II, she was raised in Rochester, New York and moved to Israel in 1972. She has published almost 30 books in English, and Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian translation, and has collaborated on half a dozen music CDs.

Editor’s Note: Is it possible to read today’s poem without being moved to tears? To wax poetic (this is the place for that, after all), when I read today’s poem the first words that come to mind are “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” No, really. Let me.

1) Parallelism, as both an incantatory device and as a conversation between the poem and biblical poetry. “This much is in my blood: / I was conceived on the day she died. / This much is in my blood.” “Malcah Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them.” This parallelism is working on more levels than we might imagine. To echo the Bible in this way is a tradition that dates back to the earliest World War II and Holocaust poetry. But, in fact, it dates back to long before the Holocaust, finding rich roots among the varied history of all Jews in exile, and particularly those in Spain’s Golden Age and the time of the expulsion.

2) Vivid imagery that does not let us forget the many tragedies of “her story.” “[T]he two infants she watched / Dashed against the wall of their home,” “I can feel her mouth, her narrow lips clamped / As she bends over the delicate mines,” “He helped / The women first, and his wife came last / But didn’t come, was burnt alive.” This poem is rife with what Aristotle termed Pathos, the emotional connection to the audience. This is not a poem that you can read without feeling, deeply.

3) The poet herself shines through as a character, real and flawed and human. We know her struggles and her failings, and we experience them with her. “If I can write of these babies, / I can manage the rest,” “When mother first told me the story… I must have been fifteen, and outraged / That she was weeping… She knew / All I cared for was my own life, / And her latest discovery / Of the fate of her youngest sister / A disruption.”

4) Malcah, on the other hand, is made a hero through raw nostalgia. Malcah means “queen,” and while the poet did not invent her lost aunt’s name, bringing her name into the poem elevates the heroine to near-godly proportions. “She blew up trains. / The courage came from her uplifted chin,” “Malcah who saved all our lives / Malcah who was waiting for them / When the ship brought them back to Danzig / After they were barred from the Holy Land, / Who found them the agricultural visas to England / And saw them off the night that Hitler invaded.” Malcah the martyr, who did not die before first ensuring that the poet and her family would live.

5) “Her Story.” It is no secret that I am a big fan of herstory. I created a project to revive and celebrate it. But herstory, as today’s poem makes clear, is multi-faceted. It is women’s history, it is one woman’s history, it is women’s stories, and it is one woman’s story. But in today’s poem it is also the admission that there is no one story. (An idea I am incredibly interested in, as I spent the fall of 2013 researching my own family’s history through the lens of varying versions of the same story, much as today’s poem does.) In today’s poem we are given every known version of Malcah’s story, but the poet twins the telling of “her story” with the idea that “there is no real story” to tell. This is as true to an accurate historical retelling as anyone can come.

Want more from Karen Alkalay-Gut?
Karen Alkalay-Gut’s Official Website
Interview in The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism
Tel Aviv Radio
Buy The Encantadas: Evolution and Emotion from Amazon
The Bridge at Raqqa (eBook)
Youtube

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: DES LIENS INVISIBLES, TENDUS / TAUT, INVISIBLE THREADS


Liens


From DES LIENS INVISIBLES, TENDUS / TAUT, INVISIBLE THREADS
Poems by Dara Barnat; Translations by Sabine Huynh:


A BRILLIANT FISH

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

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.

Transportons-nous
tels des galets lisses
dans le creux de la paume –

toucher familier,
rondeur.



GROWING VEGETABLES

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.


CULTIVER SON POTAGER

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

Penchée
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.



PRAYER I DO NOT KNOW

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.


PRIÈRE OBSCURE

Comment prier
pour toi ? Personne

ici, moi
seule. Je ferme

les yeux, tente de voir
ton visage,

sa lumière, tes doigts,
l’affleurement,

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 publie.net, 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: http://www.sabinehuynh.com


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