Voices Israel Poetry

Group of Poets in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2015

Results of the 2015 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition:

Judges: John Smelcer, USA; Bill Freedman, Israel; Gretti Izak, Israel

1st prize – Johnmichael Simon – “Romantic

2nd prize – Helen Bar-Lev – “Samson's Saga

3rd prize – Breindel Lieba Kasher – “Father and Daughter

Honorable mentions in random order:

Elizabeth Claverie - Toro
Jane Seitel - Ezekiel of the Junk Yard
Jed Myers - One Small Scratch
Rochelle Mass - The Right Time
Patti Tana - Hemming
Judith R. Robinson - Holocaust Legacy in America
Sheila Golburgh Johnson - Dawn
Reuven Goldfarb - Time Capsule — 1957
Ricky Friesem - Language Lessons
Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli - Cheatgrass 

 

First Prize
Romantic
by Johnmichael Simon

Mister J.P. Hornbill, ninety fast approaching,
reading glasses unreliable as fog lamps blinking,
has taken to watching movies from some wondrously
benevolent provider of purloined celluloid, streaming
down to his rusting yet still functioning computer

And like the zipped-up overcoated teenage dreamer
he never has relinquished, chooses Romance as his
favorite genre and watches, eyes misting up his specs,
how in script after metropolitan script, the camera focuses
on yet another pair of star-crossed strangers 

Young and good looking, bumping unexpectedly, yet
also quite predictably, into each other, locking eyes
for a short magnetic moment, exchanging a word or two
on this or that, and having kindled in us a spark

That Mister J.P. Hornbill (like hundreds of other
lonely viewers) hopes, fondly imagines, nay is certain,
will within the next two hours become a flame, consuming
time and space, surviving improbable adventures,
partings and re-meetings, losses, tragedies and with
a quite implausible belief in destiny, burn on to help them

find each other once more in scene after scene then part
again, until the final minutes and that inevitable, arms-around-
each-other, lips and tongues entwined, ecstatic moment,
after which the actors’ names and all the other collaborators
in this great pretense appear in black and white across the screen 

Mister J.P. Hornbill takes off his glasses, wipes his eyes,
prepares for bed. Somewhere, in a dream perhaps, he knows
he’ll meet her. Maybe she’s not far away now, closing her
computer, brushing her teeth, filling her hot water bottle.
Possibly they’ll meet soon he thinks, sit in the back row
munching popcorn look at each other sideways, smile
and exchange a word or two, as strangers sometimes do

 

Second Prize
Samson's Saga
by Helen Bar-Lev

Delilah wondered if all Hebrews were such gentle lovers
as she clipped his curls and left them lying on the ground
like so many question marks, slipped out of the room,
nodded to the waiting soldiers
musing if she would miss Samson,
surely the best tryst she’d ever known,
but she pocketed the pouch of payment
and vowed to forget him

What they didn’t tell her
was that they would bind him, blind him,
a bit too cruel she winced, braiding her hair,
admiring her image in the waters of the Jordan,
applying more kohl to intensify her eyes,
consoling herself with another swig of the finest mandrake wine 

Samson mused too as he begged for food
and listened to gossip as passersby spat on him;
so weak was he that two men had to help him home
but ever so slowly his hair was growing;
he wound a turban around his head
so that no one would notice and continued to beg
while at home he lifted weights and envisioned revenge 

Meanwhile a feast was planned to celebrate his defeat;
all the populace entered the temple,
tingling with pagan anticipation
of the humiliation spectacle 

A shackled Samson stumbled into the temple
and fumbled for the pillars he remembered
from the time when his eyes could see both light and night
and the beauty of Delilah whose betrayal had brought him
here to these pillars and whose jasmine perfume wafted
through the room, firing him with the passion to push and push,
harder, harder, a labour of anger
as the temple collapsed, burying them all

And then he could see again 

 

Third Prize
Father and Daughter
By Breindel Lieba Kasher
 

Father: 

I took my daughter
To Poland in the winter
Snow made it impossible
To walk from
Auschwitz to Birkenau
But we did it
She insisted
She said she felt it
But she didn’t 

For her, it happened
Long ago
In a foreign country
She could never get it 

Daughter: 

It was bitter cold
Snow made it impossible
To go from
Auschwitz to Birkenau
But we did it
I insisted
I needed to feel it 

He said the trip
Didn’t change me
How could he know?
The war was his secret
He never shared his dead
He loved them more than
He loved me
I felt it

 

Honorable Mention 
Toro
by Elizabeth Claverie

the sun in madrid scorched
my last summer there.  
1936, hemingway, hunched over a pad,
drumming his fingers, glassy eyed,
cigarette smoldering. 

and there i was in the middle of the arena
pacing below the cheering crowd,
ladies waving roses and scarves.
I eyed you
as your fringe-covered arms
and
sequin-laden hips
twisted my way. 

you held the lance through many passes.
you danced around me with your sour face. 

later, among the petals and lipsticked sighs,
finally gored
by a mediocre maneuver
you didn’t intend to make, 

i let my face
fall onto the sand, warm and nurturing.
a stay-with-me, beseeching, plaintive cry
of desperate wanting fell from my mouth.
saliva and snot dripped from my flared nostrils. 

and in my feckless stupor
i misconstrued the stab—
didn’t see it coming, didn’t feel the torero’s blade
and when I looked back at you, thinking the blood was yours,
i realized it was mine. 

 

Honorable Mention
Ezekiel of the Junk Yard
by Jane Seitel

God sends the angel of death into the graveyard of wrecks.
            Piles lie in ruin, shells of cars and ramshackle trucks:
An antisemitic Edsel, that El Dorado my zeyde coveted and a behemoth of
            a black Hudson. The Blessed One gives the angel of death a list,
but the thief first steals for himself a chrome hubcap, a cracked rear view
            mirror. He pries off an Infinity emblem to wear on his lapel. Gulls
swarm the edge of the junkyard. They shrill the mounds of squalor,

shit on crushed cars and in gutted engines. They hover, become a shroud
            of soaked feathers. They shield a solitary burnt out vehicle from death’s sight.
in the sinkhole of furtive visions, the spokes of the chariot splinter,
            frame warped beyond repair. The owner, Ezekiel, strikes wet flints together.
The wind scoffs them. Yellow eyed dogs worry near. The prophet blurts
            out consonants—SPTT and PTSD. Letters ascend, gibberish assaults
driving rain. Craws wide, the gulls gulp down each letter, one by one.


Honorable Mention
One Small Scratch
by Jed Myers

Paper lasts where it gets tucked 
away in stacks, in sheds, huts,
collapsing attics…. It outlives
the struts of its brittle houses. But
print, intently typed or dashed
off in offhand moments, ink
or lead, will bleed away and marry
other atoms—fade
to blank. They’ll X-ray scraps
they find in heaps, like they did
of late with hills of ancient trash
in Egypt, discerning bits
and pieces of old porn and Jesus
quotes, but most is lost. So this
note to you, who scavenge
wrecks and squint at sheets of gray
forgotten tracts in languages
the world neglects—this message
sent by spirit, in an instant,
touching you or not. You breathe
a carbon atom I exhaled.
You blink in brightness from the sun
I wandered under. You are someone’s
son or daughter. And now that I am
invisible, I kiss your brow
and bless your wonder, there across
the time-rift, down the spirals
round our star, from now
to now, one small scratch of life
on life’s papyrus to another. 



Honorable Mention
The Right Time
by Rochelle Mass

In our family
time was measured by watches
my father repaired
he returned precision to people’s lives
by bringing minutes of the day
back to where they belong
My father believed in time
he believed he had the power
to bring it back to life. 

My father always wore a gold watch
that was heavy at the end for the thin person
he had become.
“This fancy closure bothers me,” he said,
“I need a regular strap, a lighter watch
nothing exclusive.
I need a watch for an old man with a cane.”
My father died a month ago, he was 97. 

My father kept a wooden clock by his bed
He wound it morning and night
aid he could feel time moving, with new clocks
you don’t feel it, he would say. 

I brought his clock home with me,
put it by my bed, I forget to wind it
keep the digital one there also.  I’m hoping
I’ll learn more about the spirit of time
how it pulses, how it enriches
yet unravels my life
I need time to understand
what it really does. 
 

 

Honorable Mention
Hemming
by Patti Tana

I need a little help to thread the needle, a metal hook
to catch the thread and guide it through the eye,
with pins to hold the folded cloth in place. 

Lately as I walk up and down the stairs, I’ve caught
myself stepping on the hem, so I spread the nightgown
on my lap, smooth it flat, and stitch a wider hem. 

When I was a child, my mother taught me how to sew
on her Singer, my feet playing the cast iron treadle
as though it were an organ, letting out and taking in. 

I was a tall girl, five foot seven by the seventh grade.
Running races after school, my legs took the field
like the blades of a combine harvesting grain.

My mother measured every inch I grew
with pencil marks on the frame of the kitchen door
and every inch was worthy of applause. 

Sitting with her sewing basket at my feet, peace
enfolds me, and I praise this part of the pattern
that forms the fabric of my life. 

  

Honorable Mention
Holocaust Legacy in America
by Judith R. Robinson

It isn’t that we are crazy-mad,
this family.
Better that we were,
better that we
honor the ghosts
that hover gray and mute
around the holiday table;
but no, the eyes of this family
shift and blink
in restless constancy
terror a vague clutch
burrowed deep in the gut
buried beyond any understanding.
The stranger who comes a while
sees the miles that loom ahead
of scraping and bowing,
the bent necks, the nodding
and bidding for a safe place,
acceptance if not among the privileged
then a patch in the village
of the contented, to rake up the leaves,
stroll the sidewalk, return the dumb smiles,

the occasional handshake.
 


Honorable Mention
Dawn
by Sheila Goldburgh Johnson

I saw them on the slope
behind the house, two young deer,
frozen, catching sight of me through
the upstairs bathroom window. 

The way one stared at me
while I groped for the switch
to turn off the light that I might
see them better through the fog. 

In the dim we stared, the deer
and I. Although the higher deer
turned his back to me, the lower
one continued to stare. 

His (for he had the beginnings
of the tiniest horns) great dark
eyes continued to meet mine,
trying to make sense of what 

I could be in his reality.
He lifted one hoof and turned
in profile. I saw the outline
of his slender leg, delicate 

raised knee, as he glanced
at his companion ambling
gently up the slope. Oh, stay
I whispered, but he completed 

the turn and followed the other
towards the forest.
A new day, a glimpse of peace
in this burdened world.



Honorable Mention
Time Capsule — 1957
by Reuven Goldfarb

My note is sealed in a plastic tube,
the barrel of a ball point pen,
whose openings I have melted shut in fire
and buried behind the garage,
a message to an unknown era,
to say, “We are reaching for the moon.” 

At Kiddush Levanah, the blessing on the moon,
under its visible crescent or almost full arc,
we leap skyward three times and declare,
“Just as I cannot touch the moon,
so may my enemies be unable to touch me.”

What, then, does it mean, to have actually
reached the moon? — Not me, but one of my race —
and even to have brought back moon rocks, moon grit,
moon dust (we cannot call it “earth”),
an actual piece of the lunar landscape? 

Even as I can now touch the moon,
can my enemies now touch me?



Honorable Mention
Language Lessons
by Ricky Friesem


English, I take for granted
Yiddish never fails
to break my heart
French remains a jewel
I covet but will never own
German, a blister that stings
with every word I utter,
and 

speaking Hebrew
is a wild bike ride along
a bumpy path where
conjugations threaten
to unseat me and loaded
words loom to divert me
with the memories of
where I heard them first,
like 

the Hebrew words for
shelter rocket blackout
that I learned back in the
War of ’73 and the
acronyms for everything
from mortar shells to armored
cars that I picked up

in all the wars that followed,

but
what kept me, keeps me
still, from steering off that
path is yesh, a glorious
word that lets me speak
of being, wishing, having.
Yesh li. I have. I have
a language now, I have
a people and a land.
For better or for worse.
It’s mine. I have.
Yesh li.

 

Honorable Mention
Cheatgrass
by Yonah Lavery-Yisraeli
 

I will try to translate what happened into Field.
You were the field.
I was an invasive species of weed.
My seeds fell soon after the burn. 

This is a nice place for germination, I said,
being used to a harsher ecosystem.
You did not answer, your thoughts burnt stumps.
I took your silence for adoption. 

My inner sequences mutated and refolded
to imitate nativity to your soil. When I grew high and many
I understood it pained you to lose nutrients to me.
Neither of us called the bright plough.

You said to me, you do not need any father or mother, which I am not sure
how to say in Field, since even the most noxious weed needs soil. 

 

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