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By Linda Stern Zisquit

“Ten measures of beauty came down into the world;

Nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Tractate Kiddushin

“Ten parts of suffering came down into the world; nine

were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.”

                                                                         Avot d’Rabbi Natan

Had Rachel not looked up

Jacob would not have seen her.

There would have been no water,

no winding dream,

no tribe or unrelenting

portion of sadness

dispersed on his land, his Jerusalem,

and I would not have promised

to gather then home. But Rachel

saw him and he loved her.

She was barren and she suffered

and she followed him.

So I have this heaviness

to bear. Her life before him

had also the dailiness of lives,

an hour at which she would rise and go

to the well. Then out of the blue

her future came crashing against her lids

when she looked up, those hours changed,

and I was moved to his, another well.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in the collection Ritual Bath (Broken Moon Press, 1993), was recently published in The Ilanot Review, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Linda Stern Zisquit has published four full-length collections of poetry, most recently Havoc: New & Selected Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 2013). Return from Elsewhere, her fifth volume of poetry, will be published in Spring 2014. Her other books are The Face in the Window (2004), Unopened Letters (1996), and Ritual Bath (1993). Ghazal-Mazal, a chapbook, appeared in 2011. Her translations from Hebrew poetry include These Mountains: Selected Poems of Rivka Miriam (2010), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, Let the Words: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (2006), Wild Light: Selected Poems of Yona Wallach (1997), for which she received an NEA Translation Grant and was shortlisted for the PEN Translation Award, and Desert Poems of Yehuda Amichai (1991). Her work has appeared in journals including The Denver Quarterly, Harvard Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, Salmagundi and the Virginia Quarterly Review. Born in Buffalo, NY, Zisquit has lived in Jerusalem with her husband and five children since 1978; she is Associate Professor and Poetry Coordinator for the MA in Creative Writing Program at Bar Ilan University, and runs ARTSPACE, an art gallery in Jerusalem representing contemporary artists.

The Ilanot Review, where today’s poem recently appeared, is a biannual journal of creative writing which publishes a stellar selection of poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and literary interviews. The journal publishes two themed issues a year, inviting submissions from English-language poets and writers from anywhere in the world. The Ilanot Review is currently seeking submissions for its winter 2014 edition, through November 30th. The theme of the winter 2014 issue is sacred words.

Editor’s Note: Today’s selection contemplates the question so many of us are wont to ask: “What if?” In today’s piece the poet straddles two worlds; her own life and the biblical tales that shape so much of our modern lives. Within the poet’s words her own life is inextricably linked with the biblical love story of Rachel and Jacob. “Had Rachel not looked up / Jacob would not have seen her,” the poet posits, “But Rachel / saw him and he loved her,” and “So I have this heaviness / to bear.” Had the stories of our people unfolded differently, the poet seems to say, so, too, would our own lives now be different. Time, place, religion, literature, and the poet’s own path are conflated as the poem considers the universal themes of belonging, suffering, love, home, and self.

Want to read more by and about Linda Stern Zisquit?
Buy Havoc from Sheep Meadow Press
Sheep Meadow Press Author Page
Buy Unopened Letters from Amazon


By Kevin Varrone

if I had two nickels to rub together
I would rub them together

like a kid rubs sticks together
until friction made combustion

and they burned

a hole in my pocket

into which I would put my hand
and then my arm

and eventually my whole self––
I would fold myself

into the hole in my pocket and disappear

into the pocket of myself, or at least my pants

but before I did

like some ancient star

I’d grab your hand

(Today’s poem originally appeared on from the Academy of American Poets and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Kevin Varrone’s most recent project is box score: an autobiography, recently published as a free, interactive app for iPhone and iPad (available at the iTunes/app store or at His other publications include Eephus, Passyunk Lost, The Philadelphia Improvements, Id Est, and g-point Almanac: 6.21-9.21. He is a 2012 Pew Fellow in the Arts, teaches at Temple University, and lives outside Philadelphia.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem was a recent Poem-A-Day via the Academy of American Poets. As such, it was forwarded to me by doctor poet Jenny Stella, because she thought I would like it. Because of this, I dedicate today’s poem to Dr. Stella.

When I read today’s poem for the first time I was immediately reminded of the poet Nicolas Destino, whose work has been featured here on As It Ought To Be many times. If I were sitting across the table from Nicolas Destino, this is the kind of poem I would like to write for him. Because of this, I dedicate today’s poem to Nicolas Destino.

Today’s piece rides a wave of imagination until it finds a landing pad deep within the heart. First, the day-to-day is imbued with magic when the poet invents a world in which he can burn a hole in his pocket and, through it, disappear into himself. Then love and friendship smile from between the lines when the poet promises the one sitting across the table that, “before I did [disappear] / like some ancient star // I’d grab your hand.”

Want to read more by and about Kevin Varrone?
Box Score: An Autiobiography
Eephus (from Box Score)
Elective Affinities
Books from Ugly Duckling Presse
g-point Almanac from SPD Books


3111359842Left to right: Translator Joanna Chen and poet Nadav Linial. Photo courtesy of Joanna Chen.

By Nadav Linial
Translated by Joanna Chen

At the edge of the garden dew hovers on the iron fence
leaving traces of rust like remembrance

And in the house someone strips artichoke spikes
down to the sweet white heart like layers of forgetfulness.

In the orchard the cells of honeycomb spill over
the hollow body of the tree like tears

And at the edge of the field rain pierces the rock
like yearning.

How can an image capture a name
or speech describe the voice that
broke out when the grain of the soul was
separated from the chaff of the flesh?

I loved you like I loved you.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in the collection Tikrat Haadama [Earth Ceiling] (Keshev Publishing House, 2010) and in Haaretz, and appears here today with permission from the translator.)

Nadav Linial was born in Jerusalem in 1983 and lives in Tel Aviv, teaching in the literature department at Tel Aviv University. His first book, “Tikrat Haadama” (Earth Ceiling), in which this poem appears, was published in 2010 by Keshev Publishing House and was awarded two major prizes for young poets.

Joanna Chen is a British-born poet, journalist and translator. She has written extensively for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Marie Claire and the BBC World Service. Her poetry and poetic translations were most recently published with Poet Lore, The Bakery, and The Moon Magazine, among others. The translator of today’s poem, Joanna Chen was last week’s featured poet here on the SPS.

Editor’s Note: How can we write about love? Have words ever failed so completely as they do in this? Can a simile adequately describe love? Can a picture painted with words even begin to portray that which is inscribed upon the heart? These are the questions percolating beneath the surface of today’s poem.

For me, as a reader, today’s piece elicits a new kind of love. A love of words themselves, whether or not those words are able to capture that which they seek to describe. How heartbreaking the lyric, how lovely the images. How breathtaking to think of love as physical things, that remembrance can be left like rust, stripped away like forgetfulness. What connection I feel to the powers that be when I imagine the grain of the soul separated from the chaff of the flesh.

In the end, the poet abandons metaphor, admits there are no words that will suffice for love. “I loved you like I loved you.” This, he posits, is the best that words can do. A sparse phrase that tells us nothing and everything at once. I know what it is to have “loved you like I loved you.” Don’t we all?

Want to see more by and about Nadav Linial?
Video: Israeli Center for Libraries (in Hebrew)


By Orit Gidali, Translated by Marcela Sulak

I, Kohelet, was king of Jerusalem,
I really was.
Treading over a thousand flowers on my way to the white bed
where my wives waited to remove the crown from my head–
made of marzipan in the biting of sweet tongues–
my silk rubbing against their silk, my flesh would choose among
them, and my flesh was already sweet in their flesh.
Kohelet, I held a thousand women
and I didn’t have a single one
I could recognize by smell
or by her skin or her feet,
her steps as she walked away from me: David’s lament.
Her steps toward me: his song.
I am Kohelet, Solomon,
my linen is the mystery of shrouds
and my bitten crown is above me.


אני קוהלת מלך הייתי בירושלים
באמת הייתי
דורך על אלף פרחים בדרכי למיטה הלבנה
שם חיכו נשותי, שהסירו את כתר ראשי
העשוי מרציפן בנגיסת לשונות מתוקות, משיי
מתחכך במשיין, והייתי בוחר מתוכן לבשרי,
ובשרי כבר מתוק בבשרן.
קוהלת החזקתי אלף נשים
ולא היתה לי אישה יחידה
לזהות את ריחה
ועורה ורגליה
צעדיה ממני: קינת דוד
צעדיה אלי: שירתו
אני קוהלת שלמה
סתרי תכריכים של סדיני
וכתרי הנגוס מעלי.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in The Bakery, was published in the collection Esrim Ne’arot LeKane [Twenty Girls to Envy Me] (Sifriat Poalim, Tel Aviv, 2003), and appears here today with permission from the translator.)

Orit Gidali is an Israeli poet. Her first poetry collection, Esrim Ne’arot LeKane [Twenty Girls to Envy Me], was published by Sifriat Poalim in 2003. Gidali is also the author of Smikhut [Construct State] (2009), and the children’s book Noona Koret Mahshavot [Noona the Mindreader] (2007). She is married to poet Ben-Ari Alex, and is a mother, writing workshop facilitator, and lecturer in the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University.

Marcela Sulak is the author of two collections of poetry and has translated three collections of poetry from the Czech Republic and Congo-Zaire. Her essays appear in The Iowa Review, Rattle, and The Los Angeles Review of Books, among others. She directs the Shaindy Rudoff Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Bar-Ilan University, where she is senior lecturer in American Literature.

Editor’s Note: Kohelet is the original Hebrew name for Ecclesiastes, one of the Writings that comprises a portion of the Hebrew Bible. The book is an autobiographical account of Kohelet’s search for the meaning of life and the best way to live. Kohelet introduces himself as “son of David, king in Jerusalem,” and is therefore sometimes believed to be Solomon. This book, however, was written anonymously and is believed to have ben penned late in the 3rd century B.C.E., while Solomon’s reign was circa 970 to 931 B.C.E.

In today’s piece the poet associates Kohelet with King Solomon and explores the notion that “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” To get to his marriage bed the king must trample a thousand flowers. He has “held a thousand women” (Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines and may have had an affair with the Queen of Sheba), but “didn’t have a single one / [he] could recognize by smell / or by her skin or her feet.” His wives remove his crown from his head—perhaps an allusion to his wives’ polytheism which influenced Solomon and displeased God—and at that his crown is “made of marzipan” and therefore vulnerable to “the biting of sweet tongues.” In the end he is left shrouded in mystery with a bitten crown.

As fascinating as the midrashic element of today’s piece is, it is the vibrant and lyrically explicit language that brings the scene to life. The beauty of the lyric is itself almost biblical: “my silk rubbing against their silk, my flesh would choose among / them, and my flesh was already sweet in their flesh.” It was no small effort on the part of the poem’s translator, Marcela Sulak, whose original work was featured on this series last week, to translate today’s poem from Hebrew into English while still maintaining elements of rhyme, meter, and lyric beauty. This is a piece as rich in English as in the original Hebrew, and which carries as much depth and beauty in both languages.

Want to read more by and about Orit Gidali?
Author’s Official Website (in Hebrew)
The Ilanot Review
Blue Lyra Review
Buy Nora the Mindreader on Amazon
Orit Gidali’s Blog (in Hebrew)


Sage Cohen 6
By Sage Cohen:


making love to your
husband who no longer

lives with you the night
before you leave for your

weekend retreat just
because he, having

agreed to overlap your
early departure to care

for your small son, appears
in the bathroom naked

and erect as you sit steeping.
What’s wrong with slipping

under the lifted wing he has made
of the covers, against the breastbone

of the bird your two bodies make.
What’s wrong with finding him

more beautiful at this distance:
lens adjusted to the immediate

taste of his tongue that has become
its own language since leaving you.

What’s wrong with taking him in
the way you would a galaxy

on a moonless night, this
pattern you have traveled by

dipping its cup
and spilling light.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in Rattle and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Sage Cohen is the author of the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World from Queen of Wands Press and the nonfiction books Writing the Life Poetic and The Productive Writer, both from Writer’s Digest Books. She has published a variety of articles on the writing life in Writer’s Digest magazine, Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market. Sage holds an MFA from New York University and a BA from Brown University. Visit her at

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem artfully masters the element of surprise. Surprise in the story, in the words, in the phrasing. It makes beautiful what is socially censured and forces us, from the title onward, to question and to reconsider what is acceptable at the individual level. And as it asks us to rescind judgment, it delights in a lyric as delectable as the “sin” in which it engages. “What’s wrong with slipping // under the lifted wing he has made / of the covers,” it asks, and then leaves us to ponder the “taste of his tongue that has become / its own language since leaving you.”

Want to read more by and about Sage Cohen?
Buy Like the Heart, the World on Amazon
Buy Writing the Life Poetic on Amazon
Buy The Productive Writer on Amazon
Sage Cohen’s Official Website


By Paul Nemser

The last frozen day had come and gone, and we were
sleeping in the elbows of trees in the elbow of a town,
our sutures all sunken together as if we shared one wound,
as if we had climbed from a single pit

like a race of dinosaurs grown from a fused lump of eggs
that had slept in valley ice for three shifts of the North Star,
as the leaves undecorated the last few branches
which were skinny as bat bones or the bones of a squirrel.

There were cattle blotched with waning alphabets.
And there were eyes that had seen too many lights,
so we didn’t recognize the wells
we had drunk from all our lives, nor

the creek that flowed with clothes and flesh,
nor the seeds brought from all over the countryside,
from knived sacks in waterlogged barns, from pods
trembling on grotesque grasses.

We talked to each other until we could not talk.
It was gobbledygook, was joy, nothing to remember:
We would not be overrun like ants by a larger horde of ants.
The darkness would not come closer.

A dog would lift its howl to where the wind left
the tablecloths—crumpled, clawed up, drying in the sun.
A phalanx of trucks that had jostled our vertebrae
would sound like bubbles in a bottle.

I never missed you so much as waking from that sleep.
And I dream of you now lingering barely below ground,
all your twenty fingers warbling together as on flutes.
My pores open to you as to rain.

Years give way to lakes of white dust, to unyielding dirt-land.
The snouts of oxen stain pale as marble
when the beasts haul blades through the hardness that remains
of what decades ago had been garden.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in AGNI, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Paul Nemser’s book, Taurus, chosen by Andrew Hudgins as winner of the 2011 New American Poetry Prize, will be published by New American Press in November, 2013. His chapbook, Tales of the Tetragrammaton, will be published by Mayapple Press in summer, 2014. Nemser’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Blackbird, Fulcrum, Per Contra, Raritan, Third Coast, and elsewhere. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife Rebecca and practices law in Boston. Some of his family came from Chernobyl.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is one of those thoughtful, emotive, beautiful lyric poems that better expresses itself than I ever could. Some days the poems just speak for themselves. Are you listening?

Want to read more by and about Paul Nemser?
Read poems from the forthcoming Taurus on Blackbird
Two poems in White Whale Review
Poem in Unsplendid
After publication in November, 2013, check out Taurus on Google Books


By the Baal Shem Tov

From every human being
there rises a light
that reaches straight to heaven.
And when two souls
that are destined to be together
find each other,
their streams of light flow together,
and a single brighter light goes forth
from their united being.

(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)

The Baal Shem Tov: Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer (d.1760), often called the Baal Shem Tov, was a Jewish mystical rabbi. He is considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judaism. (Annotated biography of the Baal Shem Tov courtesy of Wikipedia, with edits.)

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem is a quote from the Baal Shem Tov that gives rise to the age old question: What is poetry? If poetry is beautiful lyric that speaks to the human condition, that considers love with eloquence and a care for words and ideas, today’s quote is most certainly that. Today’s post is dedicated to my husband, with whom I am beginning a journey as a “united being.” May we shine brightly together from our single light.

Want to read more by and about the Baal Shem Tov?
Jewish Virtual Library