The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2016

Results of the 2016 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition:

Judges: Clem Cairns, Ireland; Helen Bar-Lev Israel; Johnmichael Simon, Israel

First prize - Ricky Friesem: Director’s Notes: Holocaust Memorial Day, Tel Aviv

Second prize - Joyce Schmid: Filíocht

Third prize - Wendy Dickstein: Salonika, Mother of Israel

Honorable mentions in random order:

Chaim Bezalel - My Acting Career in Two Bit Parts

Davi Walders - Derricks & Dreidls

Grace Curtis - Upon Learning Einstein Was Wrong

Ellaraine Lockie - Jew as Noun

Judith R. Robinson - Aunt Lillian 

Bill Freedman - Drinking the Sea (a lullaby for Etai)

Joan Michelson - Artist and Mother: Poland, 1950s

Orit Perlman - Stranger

Elisabeth Murawski - Ternivka

Jed Myers - Toward Forgiveness 

First Prize

Director’s Notes: Holocaust Memorial Day, Tel Aviv

by Ricky Friesem

Pan across the bustling plaza

bursting with the energy

of busy people on the go.

Zoom out to a long shot

as the siren’s piercing howl

brings them to an abrupt halt.

Hold on the shot of the plaza,

still now, and silent.

Zoom in on a pair of sandals

glistening with wet sand.

Cut to a series of tight close ups

of dusty shoes, trendy shoes,

soldiers’ boots, high heels,

low heels, new shoes, old shoes,

bridled feet twitching with life.

Tilt up to motionless legs and torsos,

faces settling into solemnity.

Pan the plaza until the siren’s

howl is sucked into the void again

and the crowd lets out a collective sigh,

like swimmers coming up for air.

Zoom out to a long shot of the crowd, stirring.

Zoom in to their shoes, in motion once again, then

cut to tight close ups of fancy buckles, worn heels,

burnished leather, delicate straps and tangled laces.

Zoom out to reveal they belong

to the tumbled mass of shoes on display

behind glass in the Auschwitz museum where

they rest now, undisturbed and unclaimed.

Slowly fade to black.

Second Prize

by Joyce Schmid

That is Heaven’s part, our part   

To murmur name upon name… 

W.B. Yeats 

I met an Irish poet, once,

in Kepler’s Bookstore, and I asked him

why he’d come to Menlo Park from Ireland.

He said, “In Ireland, everyone’s a poet,

so I came to be a poet here.”

I wish that I were Irish,

with the greeny eyes, the fiddle in my ears,

the River Shannon winding through my mind

from Cuilcagh Mountain, County Cavan,

to Loop Head in County Clare.

My blood lines flow from Kamenetz-Podolsk

on Smotritch River in Ukraine,

where Cossacks and Red Army troops

killed people by the hundreds,

and the Germans came and lined up all the rest

and shot them by the tens

of thousands into open pits,

no Connolly or Pearse, MacDonagh or MacBride

to harry and dismay the murderers,

no Yeats

to name the martyrs.

I wish I had an Irish throat

to sing them for you, one by one,

the beauty

of their unknown names.

Third prize

Salonika, Mother of Israel

by Wendy Dickstein

The toy seller’s shadow

stains the street.

Her burden of balloons

blooms over the Aegean Sea.

From a café drift the strains

of a George Dalaras song:

“You opened the door and left everything in pieces.”

She lingers to listen, a boy buys a balloon.

The song resumes:

“All that binds us walks away like steps on the stairs.”

In Roman, Spanish, Ottoman times

this was a Jewish town.

La madre de Israel, the poets called it.

On Sabbath the harbor fell silent.

Eggs baked overnight in the ovens — huevos haminados.

1942, Black Sabbath, nine thousand Jewish men and boys

entrapped in Freedom Square,

the Nazis kept them sweltering there for hours.

Months later, when they got to Auschwitz, the other inmates

almost rejoiced, thinking these husky watermen

had come to set them free.

Today you’d never know

sixty thousand Jews once lived here

but for the lone menorah — artful mesh of bodies and flames,

and the street sign: “Jewish Martyrs’ Square”

defaced so often they keep a stockpile of spares.

Bleak eyed, each evening the toy seller

roams Aristotelous Square.

Above the gaudy port

soar sixty thousand unseen souls

ghosts of lost balloons.

Honorable mention

My Acting Career in Two Bit Parts

by Chaim Bezalel

I (1964 - Dobbs Ferry High School production of Jean Anouilh’s Antigone)

In my first role, freshman year

Age fourteen, a modern adaptation

of Antigone, I began my career

on stage. Stage right was my location

Throughout the play. I stood pretending

to write, although the author, Jean Anouilh,

Wrote in the secretary without intending

A single line to relieve the ennui.

Fifty years later I search the script

and of such a part there is no mention,

Only the Page among the nondescript.

I was coached not to attract much attention.

Two small corrections need to be added.

Half a century, one may forget one’s lines.

I had always thought my part had been padded

by the director; sometimes memory undermines

The truth. I see the page I played

Did have a speaking part, five lines,

Each ending in “Sir,” but mostly charade.

And there was a momentary exit and re-entry,

The page leaves the stage to usher Guard Number One,

Private Jonas. At least this bit of supplementary

information rounds out the picture before I am done.

II (2015 – Light Opera Company of the Negev production of Fiddler on the Roof)

In a dressing room in Haifa I check my makeup, await my cue

Half a century since Antigone and my thespian debut.

The fiddler on the roof moves his bow, pretends to play.

We sit around the table making noise with nothing to say,

Speaking gibberish, getting drunk from glasses of air,

We all get up, dance across the stage like Fred Astaire

If he had been a drunken Jew back in the Russian pale

With his Jewish surname, Austerlitz, but Tradition didn’t prevail.

Both quarry and hunter, I wear two hats, cloth and fur,

Cossack and Jew, bit part by bit, side by side, till transfer

Led some to America, some to destruction, some to the Promised Land.

We strut and fret and play out our roles, not always as we had planned.

Honorable mention

Derricks & Dreidls

by Davi Walders

There must have been a dreidl turning somewhere

as I twisted out

into a dusty Texas

town pulsing with

derricks pumping to fuel

the war heating up

that summer before

Pearl Harbor, before

the first roundups

as the first trains

filled the first camps.

There must have been a dreidl turning somewhere

spinning out of control,

its small twirling body

weighted against gimmel,

hey, families and children,

toppling always on nun--nothing,

shin — you lose, shin again — 

you always lose, tilting

farther away from those

whose every share

had been anteed up, emptied out

in round-ups and line-ups.

There must have been a dreidl turning somewhere

as I blinked at orderly

cross-armed derricks pricking

the sky, tried to focus

on refineries firing

clouds into bright blue.

There must have been a dreidl

toppling elsewhere

against those who could never

break even, whose turns

burned into dust

as I twisted and tumbled

to safety.

Honorable mention

Upon Learning Einstein Was Wrong

by Grace Curtis

Notice which parts

of the body are moving

unconsulted, blowing newspapers,

loose tea, a novel, novel idea, novella,

genitival, blue cloisonné, metallic, crackly.

We can’t say we weren’t warned, that we

hadn’t warmed up to the idea. We can’t say

it hadn’t been said. Now it’s all break, beak, and

tally, stretching appetites for the no-longer. Clinging

to our pristine pages — the one thing we believed in — 

paper — thin, featherweight, in the scheme, opaque, part

cotton-linen, part flax mixed with wood pulp. That too — 

digitized, flung spontaneously, without supervision, limitless,

concourse of souvenir shops, electrical charges; charged, then

neutrons, then nothing, bruised, blue and black. Artificial, Bible-less,

bivalvia, unhinged, impotent, unspiritual. Notice which parts of the body

are moving. Notice which parts of the body. Notice which parts are moving,

moving outward. Notice which parts are expanding at an ever expanding rate.

Honorable mention

Jew as Noun
by Ellaraine Lockie

As a child, I assumed it was a verb

A word that had to do with a cheap price

Later, school history defined it as noun

Ephemeral beside a list of dates to memorize

Later still, exploited in movies and novels

until facts blurred into fiction

And there the facts stayed

rooted in everyday farm and small-town life

Life without any nouned Jews, or was it

How many other grandfathers emigrated

from a Germany that repressed their very breath

Who went West where the air was free for all

Who married into Catholicism and homesteading

Still, fear squeezed truth into silence

The secret as buried as the blackened

silver dollar collection found under the floor

when the prairie house was torn down

The first layer of tarnish stripped long after his death

when several states away a man with a nose

like my daughter’s and nephew’s

said our last name was certain to be Jewish

A genealogist scraped off the next layer

after learning the Stettin birthplace

But what removed the last dark smudge of deceit

is Josephus’ Complete Works: History of the Jews

The ragged book hidden in an out-building

An inscription by my grandfather to my father

dated Christmas Day

Here in my hands, a new heritage

Polished as bright as a jeweled Star of David

Yet withered and falling apart

Like my perception of who I am

and what linguistics apply to me now

It should be as easy as adding

another adjective to Irish and Polish

But this shine burns a hole

of questions that can’t be filled

The answers underground for decades

Imagination haunting in their place

Honorable mention

Aunt Lillian

by Judith R. Robinson

Paper dolls & Little Women,

the shaded summer porch, alone;

blue myopic eyes, skin pale as curdle;

delicate young feet bound

not by clay but carpet slippers

Later, a spinster’s work: Father’s mountain

of accounts, the busy store, the bank,

his trade union, his taxes, the inventories:

every brand of smokes. Payables, receivables.

Pinch each gritty penny. Orders to fill.

Bull Durham & Pall Mall & Lucky Strike.

Sundays on Murray Avenue: buggy rides

give way to somebody else’s Ford or Chevy,

she, the ever-grateful passenger

never chattier than on trips to the cemetery — 

business among the stones and myrtle

rags & scissors to tidy up mother’s bridge club,

the poor rabbi, cut off in his prime.

Bits of a maiden aunt’s sadness: only her own hands

to soothe peach-scented cream on thinning skin;

the left hand that trembles,

the skin brown and dotted as an owlet’s wing;

a photograph kept under starched white sheets,

Clark Gable, his dazzling, crooked smile,

hidden from the sight of sister Ruth;

and next to Clark rests Lillian, herself,

in sepia, at eighteen, looking dreamy,

up and away from the camera,

ready to begin the life that never comes.

Honorable mention

Drinking the Sea (a lullaby for Etai)
by Bill Freedman

When he couldn’t sleep

I’d press his tiny body to my chest,

set his teacup chin in my shoulder’s rest

that I might be his violin,

and sing him up and down the corridor

between his bedroom and our own.

Rockabye Baby a hundred

dying toward a whisper times until he slept.

I was forty four, my spine a twisted

olive branch that proposed no peace.

And within minutes, where the bough

for the thirty-seventh time gives way,

I’d feel my own. Feel it curtsy, bow,

swing its vertebrae like a white plumed hat

and step aside for anguish, wide as any pavement,

striding through.

No shifting of his six apples and a grapefruit weight,

no Tarot, leaf, or palm-read realignment

with the moons of Saturn, piety or stars

would detain it with a friendly conversation,

block its way.

Only the glassy smoothness of his skin

the world these foundling months lend out,

lies at our doorstep, sparkling

its flat sandpaper smile when we take it in.

This and the swooning scent of newness I sucked in,

deep as the Chinese brother in the tale

who could drink in a single draught the sea.

He calls sometimes, from another continent

for help with something costly, broken

or in his love life not quite right.

It isn’t easy. He’s a little heavier now, my size,

but though he wears a three-months beard

and sweats a little on the treadmill

or weeding with his woman in their yard,

I lift him still, set his satin smooth sweet chin

where throat and shoulder meet to let him in

and drink the sea to reach him.

Honorable mention

Artist and Mother: Poland, 1950s

by Joan Michelson

He paints the two together, still lifes, close ups.

They’re in a space that is no space, a join

of earth to sky, of absence to existence.

The woman is always in her prime. The son,

who paints, changes from a man, to infant,

to a boy in short trousers. Although there was

a time when both were alive together,

on his canvas, always, however life-like,

one of them is dead. For death, the artist

uses blues, for life, hot fire colours.

In this painting, the mother is all blue,

blue flesh in silky thin-strap, shroud-like dress.

The boy, feisty, fiery bright, hugs

his face between her hips. As if she senses

what the dead cannot and responds

to his embrace, her hand is spread and pressed

into his back. Elsewhere, the reverse.

The same full female figure female is bright

while he, a pudgy toddler, is cold blue.

Gazing at him, she stands him on her knees,

his blue hands in hers, his blue arms

outstretched; an angel designate perhaps,

trying out his wings. This life-in-death

coupling is his obsession. Last, he paints

Self-Portrait of the Artist. A lean young man

in round dark-rim glasses, he’s at work

inside his work. In his hand, his palette.

Honorable mention


by Orit Perlman

What kind of wind is this that can pull you out by your socks

toes curling into the marble flagstones, dry leaves

scaling them sideways — ocean crazed crabs, your fingers

vines growing wildly at the joints.

What kind of wind is this, that befuddles the lemon tree

heavy breasted with fruit, sagging at the spine, into forgetting

her puddings and pies and other smiling yellow glories as she opens

new leaves sharp-eyed as stars. What kind

of wind has come, narrow hipped and dry as a bone

in the middle of this rainy, soup-warmed

in the middle of this hubby, muffin-kissed

December, like a stranger without luggage, his silhouette

ripples over the grass as weeds lovingly pry into his pockets.

You have met him before, you were marked

by the turn of his wrist through a crack of a window

or maybe much later, or much earlier, but nevertheless

in hazy fields or vagabond huts, sometimes

by a strain of melody or whiff of salt, but even then

his back was turned, he was just passing through, whistles

on his collar, and you want to follow, in your socks

out through the gate to the edge of the garden and ride

forever on the tatters of his southbound shirt.

Honorable mention


by Elisabeth Murawski

From the roundup,

the Gestapo in charge

chooses two Jewish beauties

for his pleasure,

queens for a day. He has

the same name, Hummel,

as the Bavarian nun,

Sister Mary Innocentia,

whose drawings inspired

the figurines. Not one

of those adorable

porcelain children

whistling and singing

in oversized shoes

has seen a schoolmate shot

or trampled

a naked corpse

as if it were grapes.

A hummel, German

for bumblebee, is also

a Swedish musical instrument

much like a zither.

Its drone resembles

the insect’s hum as it circles

a flower, the whirr

of an oncoming fighter plane.

Honorable mention

Toward Forgiveness

by Jed Myers

So say you chose — you were moved,

by the world, by the body

you’ll say was yours. Sure as you felt,

you were leaned to your conviction,

like any reed in the wind.

Call it decision — you followed

your heart. You bowed to the ruling

party that monitored your inside

transmissions, intercepted and shredded

your doubts, and had you serve

purposes you didn’t know about. You lived

in another city. You did

what the limbs were told by the nerves.

You spoke the words in your throat.

How could you not? You were sent,

task after task. Your fingers

undid the buttons between you and others

on their unknown missions. You wept

tears of real love, no idea

what greetings you were there to convey

nor why those meetings took years.

And you’re still confused. Whose

were the acts you committed — yours?

The wind pressed. You were driven.

The world gets under your skin.