The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2009

Results of the 2009 Reuben Rose Competition

Judge: John B. Lee, USA

1st Prize:  Michael Dickel – Crows
2nd Prize:  Michael Dickel – Forty-Two Sacrifices
3rd Prize:  April Bulmer – Blood

Honorable Mentions in random order

Michelle Cohen - Captured  
April Bulmer - Great-With-Chil
Sara Avital - Velazquez Venus (almost) Nude without Mirror   
Johnmichael Simon - Cranes Over Galilee
Johnmichael Simon - Through a Frozen Window
Johnmichael Simon - Fanning a Dying Love Affair Twenty Years After Sharpeville
Johnmichael Simon - Homecoming After the Fleadh
Rolland Vasin - You Amsterdam  
Andrea Moriah - Jerusalem Garden  
Andrea Moriah - The Border  
Yakov Azriel - Joseph's Brothers Watch Their Father Mourn  

First Prize
Michael Dickel, Israel

Resisting rising from bed this gray morning. 
A cow lowing lulls me. A crow's short bark 
disturbs my rest
                               At dusk one crow comes, 
then another, then a flock gathers in the poplars. 
They have eaten frogs. They tasted 
duck eggs. They savor carrion, laughing.

Send the crows to Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda!
Refugee camps in Zaire overflow with cholera.
A young girl rolls her brother's body in a reed mat.
A once dignified man cannot hide his shit-stained pants.
The young woman every young man desired dies in the night.
The young man who turned heads when he walked down the street
averts his eyes as he lays desiccated at your feet
The man who cut the throat of his neighbor's
daughter rattles his own bones.

An old couple hear. They peer at the rock covered 
with skeletons living and dead, tattered flesh barely 
clinging to bone in this killing field.
                                                   Their arms
braised with small calligraphy. They turn away. 
They climb the mountain. 
On the radio they call for help. 
They seek solace in burning brush 
from the smell of ammonia poured over dead bodies 
and the too familiar sound of bulldozers. 
They try but cannot cry enough tears 
for the thirsty millions.

With the muffler gone from my old Ford tractor 
I drive up to where the crows call.
It's open season. I could shoot them, 
had I brought my shotgun.
The beast under me roars as its wheels dig 
into the raw earth. The tractor submerges; 
I hang onto its seat with everything. It takes 
me down, down into the gravel left by glaciers, 
down through the rock, through the hot mantel, 
the liquid core-
                        out the scabbed crust.
I am on a mountain 
covered with skeletons, 
rotten flesh. I stop breathing 
to stop the stink.
I have arrived
too late.

Second Prize

Forty-Two Sacrifices 

by Michael Dickel, Israel

"When I want to speak a word
 The spirit has already descended 
From its hiding place,"
    —Abraham Isaac Kook (trans). By Ben Zion Bokser)

A messenger resides amid the low clouds on Meron;
a distant falcon rises above a desert. Late sunlight drops onto
the hills from a blue sky. Soon a walk in the wilderness

will reveal ayin, a silence speaking; soon candles will shimmer 
in the relief of evening; soon words will come only after 
tasting salted bread. Balaam shall not go. Balaam may

go. Three times Balaam's donkey stops, blocked by a sword-carrying 
messenger. Three letters. Seven bulls and seven rams for seven altars, 
three times. Forty-two sacrifices for a blessing, not a curse,

Stand here and look. What do you see? What do you say?
Wait, Stand here, are you sure of what you see and what you say?

That’s  not the answer I wanted to hear. Stand here, I am Balak.

Three times. Seven altars. The twelve tribes of Israel below; 
men sell their services to others in order to fuck fantasy women 
and to buy digital flat-screen TVs, fast cars, automatic rifles.

An ibex climbs up the steep slopes to En Gedi.  A raven floats on the 
wind, A stonemason repairs the walls of an ancient house 
with mortar, time and care. Men, women, children climb

up and down stone steps, polishing them to a slippery pleasure 
of color and light. Someplace, a guitar plays lazily a hymn to 
rhythm and blues. Someplace, light drifts away to dusk.

There are twenty-two letters. Seven doubles. Three times. How 
many vowels? Turn off the tv, even if it is the World Cup; 
park the cars; hammer the steel gun barrels flat. Speak silence.

An emptiness may be taken in while walking quietly
In a wilderness. A painter, a potter, a poet and a rabbi
step into Shabbat together. Sunlight spreads out into the night—
beyond the earth shadow, the moon witnesses. In the shadow of the earth, 
a cool breeze brings together strangers and friends at table. 
They speak quietly. At dawn, birds will daven in song.

Third Prize
Blood - 
by April Bulmer, Canada 

The native spirits tread softly,
bear sweet grass
in medicine hide pouch.
They have flown to me
over the River Grand
for I, too, was once an Indian:
tall and lean.
my face a shade of sun. 
My hair was long and loose 
and my hands moved 
like brown birds 
among fields of corn.
My babies turned 
in my womb 
as flowers will bloom
For my man planted them 
like seeds in early morn

Ghosts came to me then, too:
my mother in buckskin
rode a spirit colt.
She tapped a little drum
and offered me its rhythm.
I play it still.
It is my heart

But tonight the spirits come 
for I have lost my father. 
Horses have drawn him 
upon a little cart. 
The natives hold me 
in their smoke. 
I mourn as an old soul:
cry a new lore 
at dawn.
Honorable Mention
by Michelle Cohen, USA

The shutters behind me are opened 
to the desert of my forefathers, 
where my father never wanted me to go.

I am hunched over the bath tub, 
wringing bath towels, 
hand-washed and heavy

I could be any woman
in cool waters of museum paintings---

Half-robed in muted hues next to a wash basin, 
impressionist dots fracturing a woman 
washing her feet---

Perhaps a stream-bather
washed in mottled sun, blue light, nude shadow---
or the Odalisque resting on tapestries
and far after a Turkish bath….

Look closer.
These are vibrating paint strokes. 
These are contrasting color molecules 
contained in the shape of a woman 
in my likeness---

A woman confined 
in a tiny flat window 
where the clothes lines face east 
and the clothes never dry.....
Honorable Mention
Great With Child
by April Bulmer, Canada

I do not recall, 
perhaps abortion day 
had gone blue, 
an early moon 
like a skull.

She was sweet with life. 
She felt ripe 
and whole.
Her breasts soft flowers 
and her face, too, 
pale as white rose. 
Though it was her belly 
waxed like new moon.

I made tea, a milky steep. 
She poured out the story.

Her hair long as torn roots.

I forgot to pray, 
talk to Old Maker
burden Mule of the world 
or lay my tender hands 
on the sacred lump
So at l'hopital, doctor's hands
moved like fish
in the bowl of her hips.

And outside, I saw the St. Lawrence 
break open in the cold dim. 
God for my witness.

Honorable Mention

Velazquez Venus (almost) Nude without Mirror 
by Sara Avital, Israel

she - in shorts and too big shirt (mine) 
stretched hip-cocked 
over blue silk cushions -
presses up against the cat 
its tail conducting 
Leonard Cohen on the box 
lick her curves
in seeming affection 
he paws her face 

she tenses squirms 
confirms with a young low laugh 
woven from scent of lollipops 
and sound of stalking cats

who will she betray?

in my time
I have closed many doors 
become invisible 
(even to myself) 
but still     stand 
staring out 
at barren yellow-dust 
rolling with tumbleweed 
needing to know

we dried out diaspores 
dispersing now-dead seed

the toilet smells of cigarettes I sit 
and miss your touch 
as that time when I was pregnant 
you tried to help me with 

my shoes and I pushed your hands away bio 
degradable soft it says softsad 

Honorable Mention
Cranes Over Galilee
by Johnmichael Simon, Israel

Muscled flesh of migrating cranes
decorates the air above our valley
twice yearly we watch their squadrons,
their flowing flapping arrows bringing 
news from Lake Victoria,
messages from the Black Sea

how the little ones had grown so quickly,
about the scarcity of fishlets this year
(exchanging flavors of grub and tadpole)

the funeral of old Kylos, the wing leader
and how our tears had hushed
even the fretting newly hatched

warnings too, about humans to be avoided,
that throw rocks, fire shotguns, yell barbaric threats;
and those to be respected, that scatter corn cobs
on stubbled fields, glint at us only through
snapping glassy eyes

We watch them arrive and depart each year
above our valley, our tribal wars, our fences
and fortifications mean nothing to them

Mapped out as we are between hills, lakes,
feeding or resting grounds

The higher they fly we realize how fragile
our ownership of these merging landscapes,
these changing seasons.  All our efforts,
our patchwork scratches on the terrain
fading into obscurity 
beneath the rushing clouds

Honorable Mention
Through a Frozen Window
by Johnmichael Simon, Israel

This is the long, long kiss goodnight
that transports you through time
home to some unknown shore

Your boat sails glass
fastened in a sea of ice
your eyelids closed to never-never dreams
sound frozen in your white-muffed ears 

I wish to tell you happenings
of days that sail on past
of animated graphics on the glass
of bicycling across the moon
of cars that talk, of Nemo
flickering your golden spark
through underwater deeps

Of Shrek.  But your face
remains composed in silent transport
your heartbeat locked forever
at one minute to midnight

I wish I could believe in a tomorrow
like you.       The rest of us
and those we love and lose
clasped in stillness, sailing on

Into this long, long kiss goodnight
transporting us through eternity
home to some unknown shore

Honorable Mention
Fanning a Dying Love Affair Twenty Years After Sharpeville
by Johnmichael Simon, Israel

It was like quince preserve, this honeyed astringency

revisiting the byways of my youth 
with their sweet summers
and sporadic droughts
bare-footed children whipping tops
with strings and spittle
yellow mine dumps everywhere
looking down, flat topped with lust and greed 
on sweat and pay envelopes with their promise
of sour mash beer and back yard bedmates.

I’d paid my dues to Suid-Afrika more than once; 
this time to Livingstone Laka 
by twice in a row advancing him fifty rand, 
which he had every intention of paying off 
until drunk on cane liquor from a paper bag 
he cut two fingers off his left hand
with the workshop bandsaw, wrapped them 
in toilet paper before passing out in the ambulance.

“Of course I wrote his debt off”, I told my nightgowned 
private investigator, as she parted the curtains 
to view the servant’s quarters. 
“He’s back again”, she hissed, “after I explicitly 
told her no more visitors – and with liquor again. 
In the morning they both must leave”.

“But she’s pregnant”, I said, “let her stay,
her sister will look after the baby”.

A honeyed astringency, aircraft lifting one last time 
over the trees, the serpentine golf courses,
blue sequins of the private swimming pools,
the tended gardens, the buses, red for whites 
green for non-whites, the polished Jaguars 
all fading behind in gold dust yellow, 
the three of us not really attempting 
to revive our flagging love affairs.

We never really hit it off, Johannesburg, 
my tarnished lady and I,
but then relationships are at the best of times 
mouth puckering in quince-sweet compromises.

Honorable Mention
Homecoming After the Fleadh
by Johnmichael Simon, Israel

From Tullamore to Metulla
this thin line of music stretches
I travel it, a string between two cans,
hold it to my ear
at your end, street music of Fleadh
bars, guitars;  here all that emerges
two bulbuls flute and oboe, yellow breasted
on a yucca, the green music
of apples growing

Street colleen, tin whistle to your lips
turquoise vest, Roscommon tartan skirt, black tights,
twenty minstrels outside Bridge House Hotel
aged eight to seventeen, serenade your youth,
green river music, your sap pours out
the apples know it, their music
tells them grow, grow

If I had a wish, I could die here
and be reborn to music
a million children playing reels and jigs 
outside Bridge House Hotel in Tullamore
a million apples growing in Metulla
two bulbuls singing on a wire

Honorable Mention
You Amsterdam
by Rolland Vasi, USA

Children in those cobbled streets jeered: Jew-killer, 
German parents held your girly nine-year-old hand, 
pretended the hail of Shoah's shadows did not fall.

You told that fifty-year-age story at our Tuesday Witness 
meeting. I felt your shame-tears on my hand 
during the closing prayer,

written by an unknown prisoner,

in a concentration camp,
left on the body of a dead child:

Let all the fruits which we have bought, 
thanks to our suffering from those of ill will
be their forgiveness.

I abandoned the desire to punish.
You harvested, my rain, filled your cistern, 
when I cried at the memorial.

New vines curled 'round our legs,
stretched for sunrise,
Lips open, our tongues danced an afternoon waltz.

We slept, nested dolls under silk sheets,
bathed in Hillman, Nietzsche, Carlin and Wilbur,
I cuddled your laughter on my chest,

stroked flaxen hair. We braided songs
from fibers of child-hurt,
I chanted your praise from Proverbs.

I released my night visits from dead sailors
into the custody of your downy-soft ear. Dropped
all inquiries into motive and widened my dawn gaze.

Our entwined selves, like a matted tango
of river reeds, dammed Holland's tidal flows. 
I fell in love with you.

Honorable Mention
Jerusalem Garden
by Andrea Moriah, Israel

Olive boughs and palm fronds gesture
toward the serpentine fence
writhing through swathes of land
separating villages intertwined like fingers of opposing hands
reaching for the shared dull haze of the coastal plain

Only when the setting sun glints off its surface
does one glimpse the sea for the first time in the day.

Falling darkness erases the fence,
blends the lights of the villages and blurs their boundaries.

The coastal lights shimmer through the blackness.
Fishing boat lanterns glimmer offshore
in the deeper black of the sea.

The morning call to prayer undulates thickly through the air.
Electric lights recede in the face of daybreak.
Interlocking villages reappear and reclaim their sides.
The haze takes back the sea and the fence slithers toward the shore.

Honorable Mention
The Border
by Andrea Moriah, Israel

I've been to the border
where hate drifts in with the dust
and settles on our rocks and our fields.

I've been to the border
where menace breaches on the back of your neck
and death taunts you from the side of the road.

Where the hooded one 
chosen to spark the next violence 
crouches on the other side of the fence 
hunched over his flint steel and char 
waiting for the sign.

I saw scarred chain links 
where they burst through 
in a gust of smoke 
blowing up the jeep 
killing some soldiers 
and taking two hostage.

We're getting them back.
Dead, of course, 
Bones, of course.
We're trading their remains for a man
who, when just a boy
snuck over the border to kidnap a family for his cause.
He murdered a policeman on his way,
Then the father and small daughter.
The baby was suffocated by her mother
who held one hand over her mouth
so she wouldn’t cry out from their hiding place
and give them both away

They're getting him back.
Alive, of course.
Flesh and blood, of course.
His people will rejoice upon his return. 
And later he will celebrate his delivery 
at the tomb of Hafez.

But now he carries his hate in the dust on his shoes 
as he crosses back over the border.

Honorable Mention

Joseph's Brothers Watch Their Father Mourn

by Yakov Azriel

"And Jacob rent his garments and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son [Joseph] many days. And all his sons and daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, He said, 'For 1 will go down to my son in mourning to my grave.' And his father wept for him." 
(Genesis 37:34-35)

He doesn't know that Joseph lives, a slave; 
How can we tell him Joseph didn't die? 
Father will go in mourning to his grave.

Because we laughed when Joseph begged we save 
Him from the pit, we hear our father cry. 
He doesn’t know that Joseph lives, a slave,

Deceit and sin have sealed him in a cave 
As dark as hate; they are the reasons why 
Father will go in mourning to his grave.

A sea of pit engulfs us, wave by wave, 
When Father grieves he never said good-bye. 
He doesn't know that Joseph lives, a slave.

Yet Father doesn't scream or rage or rave; 
Instead, we hear and watch our father sigh. 
Father will go in mourning to his grave,

Father has grown a beard he will not shave. 
How can we tell him that we live a lie?
He doesn't know that Joseph lives, a slave. 
Father will go in mourning to his grave.