The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2010

Results of the 2010 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition

Judge: Seymour Mayne, Canada

1st Prize: Judy Belsky - Breathing Light
2nd Prize: Valerie Carr Zakovitch- Heavenly Beings
3rd Prize: Rochelle Mass- I learned to be Cunning       

Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):

Judy Belsky- Grandmother's Song
Tom Berman - Anger not the Gods
Tom Berman - My Granddaughter Wakes
Courtney Druz - Inventing the Alphabet
Miriam Green - Princess of Egypt
Wayne Lee - The Fortieth Day
Shimshon Leshinsky - What Big Teeth You Have
Rochelle Mass - That Summer
Rochelle Mass - When I was Young
Andrea Moriah - Yellow-eyed Cat
Andrea Moriah - The Heron
Andrea Moriah - Birds of War
Johnmichael Simon - Instructions to the Waiter at the Poetry Retreat
Sarah Wetzel - Myth of the Israeli Man
Dina Yehuda - Punctuation
Dina Yehuda - Two Figures in the Undergrowth

First Prize - Breathing Light

by  Judy Belsky, Israel

Thirty six elms sway in the rhythm of prayer

Arrows of light pierce the dark flesh of dreams

my father says: breathe, just breathe
to not be afraid is the holiest breath
    I breathe my father back
    to write the text in my right hand
    and the color is blue
    there is a well  and the water is a silver tear falling into itself
    the water is a flame rising out of itself
    the water is a bird whose wings repeat the rhythm of prayer
when my father points upward
finch sparrow cardinal light from the ends of his hands
the veins in his hands as familiar as back roads to old orchards
    he rubs an apple against his shirt
    inhales its fragrance
    blesses God King of the universe Who brings forth fruit from the trees
    juice makes his beard glisten in that light
    on days laden with slow nectar
    a sun warmed head beneath a father's hand:
bless these hands   crossroads of grief and love
these shoulders   square them off for the long journey
these breasts   fill with knowledge of their own dark liquor
these hips   rounded with the sign of earth inevitable as gravity
this skin that it hold in memory
and on my tongue
O father on my tongue
let seventy tongues invent themselves

Second Prize - Heavenly Beings

by  Valerie Carr Zakovitch

It sounds like a god-damned circus out there—
squeaky, spastic honking,
Clowns sounding their horns.
1 dry my hands, walk outside
and see them. The cranes are back.
"Hey, hey! Come outside!" I call
"The cranes—they're back! Come here!"
We stand, my teen-aged son and daughter and 1, chins tilted, watching
the birds that circle high above, stretched out and climbing into
the late-afternoon sky, floating and calling out to newcomers as they
collect themselves, above these hills, high,
high above these still-green hills of Judah,
they float, circle, glide in arcs above our books and bicycles,
gardens, beds, and picture albums,
their long necks and ample wings extended, reaching, a grey cloud taking shape
on its interminable journey, Russia-bound.
We wait, watching this flock as it drifts northward,
their high-pitched spluttering, bubbling screeches
slowly fade, now a distant, vague hum, while we
remain, a bit, standing among rocks and red poppies
before we, too, drift back to the house,
to homework and dinner preparations,
the holy hush of the hills ushering us

Third Prize - I learned to be cunning

by  Rochelle Mass, Israel

I used to think a piece of sky was enough to tell me
where things stood, what was going to happen. Between
mountains, the sky became triangles and I watched
how trees shivered when temperatures drop.

Predictions came at me the way cold rushes in late November.
I learned to trust like laying a fire, paying attention to balance
order, weight. Air between the twigs has to be light, not packed
nor blocked. In those years

I wanted to learn to love from those who could, but none was
ever as good as I wanted. I remember the residue of a smile
the warm place round a man's eyes. I'd stare as if I were
watching ants climb over a leaf between the mountains

of West Vancouver. Autumn baffled me then, pumped me
with memories I didn't think I had a right to, I learned to be
cunning like fabric in a market, twisted from the bolt,
edges pegged to overhead wires to catch a shopper's eye.

Honorable Mention - grandmother's song

by  Judy Belsky, Israel

the black and white brownie
encases grandmother within pinked edges
her hair is streaked white
her face a map of arrows already
points to the space beside grandfather's grave
    I dream she returns to hold my son
    from his tiny palm
    she predicts
    he will burst from husks
    of this earth in sixteen
    impatient years disappear
    through invisible seams
push inside out the womb wall
an aching phantom
    he is already more hers than mine
    and though I keep time against the empty drum
    she taps out his code against my pores
    indelible syllables
    sign his name
a stranger
a sojourner
in the land of your birth
to a place
I will show you
    on the map
    the permanent water stain:

Honorable Mention - That Summer

by  Rochelle Mass, Israel

This is my grandson's first war.
He and his mother
arrived two days
before it all began

He grabs my face as a siren
wails through the sky.
Minutes later a rocket falls
on the playground down the road

I pick figs for him.
stroke his head –
as he eats the dark fruit
the sun is finally setting.

This used to be a quiet time.

Honorable Mention - When I was young

by  Rochelle Mass, Israel

I thought a totem pole was God when I was young –
I dared come close, rarely touched, but when I did
I remember rough parts and feeling scared.
I wanted to get to the message
discover secrets.

My father once asked me: why do you stare at them?
He didn't understand: even though he could draw
the best hawk I'd ever seen, he couldn't see the moon
above the eyes, the canoe on the shoulder, the thunderbird beak
in the center. He'd tell me how they were carved, tools used.

I wanted to know what the elders chanted
I wanted to watch the chief
pull back the cedar bark, strip trunks smooth.
I wanted to see the rabbit's fur on his jacket and
abalone shells sewn to his headband.

My father told me how strong a carver had to be
how honorable the work, but I heard
tribal dances, imagined spinning capes.
I raised my face as they tossed feathers
to bless the place.

My father talked on about craft but
I wanted to spiral
into the belly of the moon
hold tight to the eagle's wing
reach where the gods really are.

Honorable Mention - Yellow-eyed cat

by  Andrea Moriah, Israel

When I was young
my mother felt the beat
of the earth through her bare feet.

My father kept his head down
and his eyes closed
to better hear
the ostinati of Tchaikovsky's strings.

They told my sister
you can go as far as you like
with that sharp mind and tart mouth.

To me they said,
you lay low and protect your soft underbelly.

I turn my father's easy chair
to face the plate glass picture window,
curl up in it sleekly,
and fix my feline eyes on the night snow.

There's not enough snow in the sky,
to fill the loneliness
of this Midwestern plain.

Later, my sister and I far fling ourselves
to the ancient spot on earth
that calls us home.

Our parents wizen and age in
the tropical heat and when they're ready,
they follow.

There they jitterbug to the end,
leaning against each other for
balance like two clockwork figures.

In the setting sun
I watch from my balcony as
the east-blown hamsin
kicks sand from the desert
into the Jerusalem sky.

There's not enough dust
to cover the hate that has
settled on this land.

This is what a yellow-eyed cat sees
every time it looks at the world.

Honorable Mention - The Heron

by  Andrea Moriah, Israel

I sleep,
hospital blanket
pulled over my mouth
to keep my lips from drying,
tucked under my nose,
so the sweet smell of laundry soap
can overpower the chemical stench of my body.

Here is the heron again
perched on a leafless winter branch
stiff head feathers slicked back,
one eye fixed on me.

Here am I, naked, in the reservoir again,
its clay sides red-marbled as dead meat
like earth in a painting by Courbet.

The heron nods offstage
which triggers a gush of water into the pit.
It fills so quickly that soon
I am dog paddling
to keep my head above water.

I gouge my fingers and toes into the red clay,
heave myself up over the edge.

At dawn, one eye opens onto Ibrahim's hand
encircling my biceps as he draws blood
from the catheter in the crook of my arm.
The one time in the day
I feel a human touch.

Honorable Mention - Birds of War
by  Andrea Moriah, Israel

Indigo blurs with black-needle siphons
supping honey out of rusted trumpet vines.

Don't come to this garden expecting
God's voice from the blaze of a rhododendron
that does not consume itself.

I'd go the way of the raven — not the one
that hauled meat scraps to Elijah in the desert —
now plucking medical waste off the beaches of Gaza.

That one — with an olive branch stuck in its craw.
With deadened eyes heading due east to Eden.

Bird-dropping God's will over deserts
sun-baked and brittle as unleavened bread.

Or. Stay with me
in this twice-promised garden.

Beat your honed beaks into ploughshares
and your wings against the coming storm.

Honorable Mention - Anger not the Gods

by  Tom Berman, Israel

This is a land
of ancient gods

They have not left this landscape
they reside in the anguish of stones
in the gray bark of carob trees
in the dimness of karst caves,
and rubble remains
of forgotten dwellings
They sigh in dry thorn stalks
on summer hillsides,
their breath hovers
in whorls of dust

This is an old, hard land
with a surfeit of memory

It does not take much
to stir passions
or memories
when the wind rustles
leaves in the olive groves

Tread lightly on the land
of ancient gods

Honorable Mention - My Granddaughter wakes

by  Tom Berman, Israel

Deep within her blanket
my granddaughter stirs,
sighs a farewell
to her dream

she speaks quiet words
to someone elsewhere
far off,

she tenses fingers, legs and toes
yawns, most ladylike,
blinks her eyes
and relapses again
to a soft delight
of semi-slumber

outside, expectant
the green dawning
of her world

Honorable Mention - Punctuation

by  Dina Yehuda, Israel

Your hands
dipped an oar
in the lake,
a clear opening line.

your arms
cradled the boat
enfolding us,

your wrists
drew lazy
question marks.

do your hands
remember mine,
do they reach out
over time and space

for that which has
no grammar.

Honorable Mention - Two Figures in the Undergrowth

by  Dina Yehuda, Israel

A man and woman
are standing in the forest
surrounded by poplars

knee deep in green, yellow, pink
narcissus, daffodils, jonquil
the undergrowth rising

buries their legs,
leaves them rooted, static
in Van Gogh's forest world

the man, a study in black,
narrow shoulders lost in his coat,
looks down

the woman, in a green frock,
blends in, but there is blankness
where her face should be

and I am sad to see
the back of her head,
that she is turned away

until I notice a smudge
that might be her eyes, mouth
facing me

a pale orb, enigmatic
as the face in the moon
and I think, yes

we stand in this

Honorable Mention - The Fortieth Day

by  Wayne Lee, USA

An angel rises
from thunderheads erupting
over mountains.

Be aware
, the messenger implores.
Although you haven't had rain
in forty days,

that could change in one afternoon.
Be alert
, watch for movement
among the juniper.

This is where you saw the coyote
on your walk last week,
that is where

the red racer crossed your path
just yesterday. Be present.
Notice the ants

mining their kingdom underground.
The angel dissipates
only to reappear as rain.

Honorable Mention - Inventing the Alphabet

by  Courtney Druz, Israel

What I have written is quiet and what I have not written is quiet. See them looking
at the marks on my slate—ox, house, camel, door. Muttering and gesturing, trying
to put the story together, why a homeowner with an ox keeps only one camel. Why
keep a record at all for so few animals, such a small transaction. I tell them these
are a list of sounds. Not an ox lowing, a door slamming; I mean the first sound
when I say ox. This door a sound that opens so many words—day, death, distance.
Now they are muttering again and spitting three times against the evil eye, but eye
comes later, it is what you will call O, exclaiming your lyrical rapture at what you
will see, these ownerless herds rampaging through overgrazed fields.

Honorable Mention - Instructions to the waiter at the poetry retreat

by  Johnmichael Simon, Israel

Make mine
au naturel
not slathered in cultural
name droppings, acronyms
adenoidal accents
froggy appendages

I will
send it back
if it contains
piripiri, pornographic material,
references to obscurae
or if it’s covered
with dense
unpronounceable gravy

Give it to me
one or two syllabled
containing only
local ingredients and

No fancy
dressings please
only olive oil
opinions and
easily digested

        Oh and some
        fries on the side

Honorable Mention - Myth Of The Israeli Man

by  Sarah Wetzel, Israel

Please just stop with the story
about your father's three friends, Israeli soldiers
furloughed from the army who slipped over

Israel's ill-guarded southern border
into enemy territory, the old story
about how they walked forty kilometers

across Jordan's black basalt desert
to reach the bas'e of Mt. Hor. Stop telling me
they just wanted to photograph

themselves, their arms around each other's
shoulders, big stupid grins on blistered faces
standing in Petra's two-thousand-year-old temples,

the robbed-bare tombs of some
long-dead Nabataean Arabs. Stop talking
about how they only drank water

because Israelis didn't learn to like alcohol
until the Russians showed up, about how
the three friends returned by night

by the same sand and granite route. They
weren't just lucky
, you said. It was 1966
the year my father learned to fear

, you said, because they might
be carrying dynamite
. It was the year
of Star Trek, Valley of the Dolls, the year

you were born which was why
your father didn't go with them. Please stop
saying that if the Bedouins had found

the soldiers, they'd have taken them
hostage, shot them as spies. Stop saying,
Perhaps they did find them, at least

some of them
. Please just stop
with the story about how
you would never have gone, and go.

Honorable Mention - Princess of Egypt

by  Miriam Green, Israel

Bat Paraoh
heads for the shuk.
There's a sale on pomegranates,
and the avocados are ripe.
Water pools under the stalls
from the last rains.

She hears they want to plant a tree in her honor
in the Avenue of the Righteous Gentiles.
They say saving one life is like saving a whole world,
How the basket bobbed and dipped on the water's crest,
her arms like elongated rubber
stretched and stretched—
and stretched until her fingers gripped rough woven reeds
and she reeled it in, knowing she'd find
the bright, open eyes,
his cut foreskin.

She expected nothing from him,
a beautiful child.
When he stops by,
they have tea and biscuits,
or lemonade if it's hot.
He tells her about his latest conversations
with God. He's taken up mountain climbing.
She hides her loneliness,
it is a small detail in the magnificent story.

Bat Paraoh
heads for the bus,
her frame balanced by the swaying bags.
She is old now, older than Pharaoh was.
She remembers her father,
omnipotent dreams crushed
by God's miracles,
his heart a brittle stone on the sea bed.
She did not mean to hurt him.
She chose to leave Egypt,
the long trek in the desert
like a fresh morning's stroll.

Note: Bat Paraoh is the Hebrew transliteration of Pharaoh's Daughter. This poem is based on a midrash that suggests Bat Paraoh chose to leave Egypt with Moshe and the Israelites.

Honorable Mention - What big Teeth You Have

by  Shimshon Leshinsky, Israel

Can I buy you a drink?
Asks Wolf sitting next to Riding Hood
At the bar.
You've changed, he says.
She looks great tonight
In her red party dress
With the low neckline.

Riding laughs
Yeah, I dropped my first name and changed my outlook.
You also fixed yourself up
She looks at him admiringly
Still need a shave but you've got attitude
In that leather jacket

I'll have a tequila
She says
He orders a scotch on the rocks

Where you headed? Wolf enquires
I'm going to see Grandma.
You know me by now
She's in bed with the Swine Flu
and I'm bringing her this fruit basket
Cool says Wolf
Maybe I'll come along.
I'm good with grandmothers.
Riding laughs
You never learn your lesson, do you?