The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2013

Results of the 2013 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition
Ellaraine Lockie, USA; Amiel Schotz, Israel; Rochelle Mass, Israel

1st prize:
Miriam Green – Questions my Mother Asked, Answers my Father
                                                    Gave Her
2nd prize:
Art Heifetz – Yungay
3rd prize:
Jan Fitzgerald – Mike

Honorable mentions in random order:
Niki Nymark – When They Ask Us
Dina Yehuda – Joseph’s Coat
Yakov Azriel Yiddish
Joel Moskowitz – The Binding
David Silverman –
A Soldier Learns to Sleep
Johnmichael Simon – Border Blue
Rachael Clyne – Sanction
Breindel Lieba Kasher – Budapest and Beyond
Irene Bloom – The Carrier
Bernard Mann -   The Passing of That Night
Jennifer Lagier – Fifties Flashback
Judy Kronenfeld – Ten Minutes

First Prize
Questions my Mother Asked, Answers my Father Gave Her
by Miriam Green

Where were you last night?
I was here, with you, though you thought I was your father.
Where were you last night?
Out dancing with my lover who never forgets my name.

Where are the children?
They are grown with children of their own. They live in their own homes.
Where are the children?
They are waiting in the silken sky for your goodnight kisses.

Do you want a cup of tea?
Not now. I’m busy. You made some an hour ago.
Do you want a cup of tea?
I want many things I can no longer have. I want to stand with you under the canopy and never look forward.

How many children did I give birth to?
You cradled them both in your arms, raised them to adulthood.
How many children did I give birth to?
Daughter earth is calling. Go gently to her.

Where are my keys?
I told you. Check the back pocket of your bag.
Where are my keys?
We are locked inside this room together.

Is it time yet?
We have plenty of time.
Is it time yet?
Yes, it is time.

                                     after Mark Strand

Second Prize
by Art Heifetz

This is not Pompeii
where the dead are on display
like plaster sculptures,
their last horrific gestures
frozen for the ages
while the guide drones on
with scholarly precision.
This is more recent,
more frightening, more real,
an entire city crushed beneath
the flowering mountain plants,
blessed by the downturned hands
of the towering white Christ
who stands atop the ossuary
like a groom on a wedding cake.

The serene nevadas bear no trace
of the fury they unleashed.
Children circle round the monuments.
Finches alight on the four remaining palms.
As if the screams at the circus
when the earth split its seams,
of the people huddled in the church
when the avalanche roared down
were only the screams of a feverish child
awakening safely in his mother’s arms.
As if the coche de Ancash
were heading back to Huaraz as usual.
As if the premonitions of the good doctor
were only the ravings of a loco.

No this is not Pompeii.
If it were our andina guide would not be
hiding her tears beneath dark glasses.
I would not be hearing
the cries of my lost son
as he slid beneath the truck.
Your best friend would not be
calling out to you
from the rubble in Managua.
Third Prize
by Jan Fitzgerald

The photo in the lounge told the story.
A handsome man sitting on a hay bale in a barn
flanked by his wife, four children
and six border collies
their ruffs ribboned with medals.

Other dogs he had buried under the willows
each with its own headstone.
He would greet them
as he drove by on the tractor
Morning Georgie! Champ! Flicker!
And somewhere
from the freshly mown hay
smell of sun on the river stones
they'd answer.

And so it was each morning
that we held him up in the hoist
and removed his pyjamas to wash him
face hands armpits chest belly privates
eased on his rugby shorts
settled him in the wheelchair
put on his fleecy checked shirt
and the hat crowned with winning dog badges
laced up his boots
fed him his porridge and cup of tea...
wheeled him into the hospital lounge
by his photo

left him calling out
Hunter! Flash! Shadow! Mac! Bailey! Jess!
Honorable Mention
When They Ask Us
by Niki Nymark

When Moses saw the golden calf,
he shattered the Commandments
into dust like desert sand,
gold and azure speckles
that spilled and filled
the peoples’ eyes, and ears,
the corners of
their mouths and
the fringes of their garments.

Nobody knew what the
fragments said,
but everyone had a atom of
“I am,” or “Thou shalt,” or
“Father and Mother.”
Everyone had a particle of
“lech lecha,” or “if not now, when.”

God didn’t make it easy.
God said, “The first tablets, I created
with gold and precious gems,
I signed My name in the corner,
“The Artist of the Heavenly Word“.
This time you’ll have to make them by hand.
I’m not even going to tell you what to say,
you have to remember that yourselves.”

Moses kicked himself. The people
cried aloud,
but they felt the prickly shards
of Torah in their eyes,
they could taste them
in their mouths.
they itched with curiosity,
began to search for
the ten words, so elusive,
and all the meaning
folded within them.

We search for them still.
It takes a whole people to find
all the tiny letters,
no one can do it alone.
So, who are the Jews?
We are the people who feel the itch
We are the people who search together.
Honorable Mention
Joseph's Coat
by Dina Yehuda

I know how it feels
to have your father
drape his hopes

over your shoulders
a soft cloak
warm and wondrous

woven from golden sheaves
and silver stars and all the colors
in earth and heaven

Yet all the while you know
that your brothers wait and work
for the words you bask in daily

and the coat
begins to hang heavier
with each sun scorched day

I know how it feels
to wear your brothers’ envy
to have to live with love

for which you have not worked
but have only dreamed.
Honorable Mention
by Yakov Azriel

You lived across the sea
In die alte haim, the Old Country,
In a kingdom that is no more.
Come to my country
To teach me the lieder, the songs
You once sang
And the niggunim, the tunes
Your clarinetists and your violinists used to play.

Speak to me, Yiddish,
I fear I am becoming as mute as you,
Another Bontshe Schveig, Bontshe the Silent.
Look, I have brought you a buttered roll,
I have brought you raisins and almonds
And a little white goat to sleep under your bed.
Yiddish, mein tei'ereh, my precious one,
Light your Shabbos candles
And let me hear your voice.

And dance with me, Yiddish, we shall dance together
Like a chasan and kolleh, a bridegroom and bride,
With only a handkerchief between us,
Gelibte meine, my beloved one.

Zog mir, tell me, please —
What light in the night-sky will the world know
And who shall pull its tides
Without the levoneh, the moon, of a Yiddish word?

I wander in a castle's unweeded garden,
In an untended orchard, in a forest,
And cannot find my way.
Perhaps you can be my guide,
Shaine Yiddish, die bas-melech,
Beautiful Yiddish, princess —
For I am lost,
Lost in translation.
Honorable Mention
The Binding
by Joel Moskowitz

In your interminable infancy––
I suppose that you drank too long at Mom's breast––
I painted and repainted with keen fervor
a life-sized Binding of Isaac,
a drastic deed, potentially important canvas,
but–– like most of my work from that period––

never finished.
Was it the bat's fault?–– that creature hanging
between panes of the studio window,
its dark wings folded neatly
all the while I was losing my purpose
in painting that old family trauma––
perhaps to work out something aching
between my father and me.

My son, now that you're almost thirteen––
are your bar mitzvah blessings memorized?
I'll swell with pride when you stand on the bima.
Meanwhile, your shoe's already bigger than mine,
so we expect a growth spurt.

But, I worry. As we climb Tippling Rock,
a Native American sacred landscape,
we pass Jack in the pulpits, delicate ferns,
our whole town below us caught through trees––
and you're totally bored,

lean one of your long arms like a yoke on my shoulders.
Then in the kitchen, you stand on your toes,
our faces almost rubbing, yours menacing.
You ask, Do you want to die?

Today, after we fought over the TV,
I found that pen knife I've kept since college
stabbed into the top of my drafting table.
The tool's metal shaft, like a finger,
cursed me for being your father.
Honorable Mention
A Soldier Learns to Sleep
by David Silverman

A Soldier Learns to Sleep

wherever and whenever he can. Once,
he slept in the back of a truck, heading
to battle on the Syrian border. Undisturbed
by the rutted road or sound of gunfire
in the distance, he dreamed he was
in bed with his wife, their infant son
nestled between them. When the truck
stopped, they had to poke his shoulder
with the butt of an M-16 to wake him.

That day, Tal, Yoav, and Itamar fell.

Years later, in bed with his wife, he
dreams he is riding in the back of a truck,
heading to battle on the Syrian border.
Next to him is his son. Undisturbed by
the rutted road or sound of gunfire in the
distance, his son sleeps, like a soldier.

Reality, memory, dream, nightmare.
When the conscious and unconscious
converge, even the dead awaken.
Honorable Mention
Border Blues
by Johnmichael Simon

Beyond these orchards roars the road, winding
between villages and hills, a writhing asphalt snake,
southward it heaves, then east again, until
it disappears leaving a constant echo in its wake.

Trucks rumble up and down the road, laden with
sand from quarries, rocks and timber. Some are covered
with tarpaulins and even binoculars can only
guess their contents – bulky, ominous, concealed.

Dividing ‘us’ from ‘them’, brothers from cousins,
hard by the road, a wire fence, marked off by
electronic posts, pencils in twenty yard segments
the barrier which, in its way, despite seeming fragility

Shouts louder than a road can understand. It shouts
‘keep out’,’ no entry’, ‘military zone’ in Hebrew, English,
Arabic. Here only crows, mountain breeze and ants
cross with impunity, heedless of the signs, the wires, the road.

Signboards pointing to the border still bear the legend
‘The Good Fence’, and now and then a visitor, still
uninformed arrives, asks for directions to the gate where
women smiling behind burqas once peddled halvah

Olives and pastel-colored squares of Rahat Lokum,
their children and ours observing each other curiously
like animals in a zoo. That was before the war, now gateway,
smiles and kiosks are replaced with concrete walls

While children in their schoolrooms, so close yet not
so close, chant ‘God is Great’, or sing of cypress trees
that grow in Lebanon, unconscious of the irony – the trees,
the birds, the ants and God – don’t really care at all.
Honorable Mention
by Rachael Clyne

They sell them now in Sainsbury’s
between rice cakes and crispbreads
low calorie, yeast free
appealing to an eco-clientele
ever grazing nouveau pastures
Rakusen’s Matzot still bear
the sanction of Beth Din.

The Jew in me who craves acceptance
is pleased to share her soulfood.
Deeper down another rankles.
The wounded Jew cries out
This is mine, sacred!

Passover bread baked in memory
of endless hurried departures
escape from the Angel of Death.
No time to taste the yeast of life
between slavery and desert.

This precious freedom painfully won
is eaten once a year
how dare you take it from me
would you wrap communion wafers
in cellophane and sell them too?

Jews were murdered for making matzot
not martyred blood of Christian boys
Hugh of Lincoln’s name resounds
with hundreds slaughtered in his name.

Now they lie among slimming breads
I wonder if the dead would sanction
this instead, a place on the shelf
the final integration?

Honorable Mention
Budapest and Beyond
by Breindel Lieba Kasher

Mr. Feldman, my driver, and his wife are survivors
Living in Budapest’s Jewish quarter

4 in the morning Mrs. Feldman boils milk for our coffee
In her kosher kitchen, she worries over her husband
Like a mother of children she could not have

Our papers in order, at the Ukrainian border
Police detain us for hours, as if we are criminals
Mr. Feldman whispers:
“Don’t ask questions, give simple answers, don’t look them in the eye”

Mother’s Ungvar:
Lilac flowers, chestnut trees, horse and wagons, Gypsies
Shriveled ladies, black kerchiefs, white hens, wooden houses, dirt roads
Everything as it was except, the Jews are gone, all but one

She opens slowly and pulls me in quickly
As if still in hiding, her basement memories
Resurface in Yiddish, she has not spoken since the war

The war took all:
Family, friends, neighbors, streets, smells, shadows, songs
Her mother’s tongue, dead and gone, only she lives
With her husband, the man who hid her in the basement

Afternoon turns evening, we hold each other, weeping
It is hard leaving, back to Budapest
The border police break our thermos full of coffee
Mrs. Feldman made that morning
Honorable Mention
The Carrier
by Irene Bloom

Like a recessive gene
I am a carrier
of hidden secrets
lost childhoods
and forgotten stories

but they are not yet mine to tell

In my youth they waited
germinated in guilt
twisted and silent
shrouded inside their genetic code

My mother
who lived those horrors of a Holocaust
planted them unknowingly
deep within me

Today she relates them to strangers
in the supermarket
in spite of my shame

after a generation
when the  proper time comes
I will bring them to the surface
dominant and strong

When she is gone her stories
will be revealed again
their telling will become
my task
my burden
my honor
Honorable Mention
The Passing of That Night
by Bernard Mann

We grieved the passing of that night,
a night unlike any other, so we murmured,
So good the air, softly stirred by a hand
    called a breeze, a wandering air
    that curled and came about to hold and caress.

So warm the touch,
    fingering keys that
    brought the notes that
        carried the hues that planted the seeds
        of what we’ll remember
in tomorrow’s florist shop
of long-stemmed memories,

So vivid in the mind’s eye,
    swifts winging
    against a mauve and crimson sunset,
        of couplings in ocean surf,
        towels splashed across a sand-dune fence,

So sharp the cries of gulls
and the terse utterings of terns
    now so interchangeable with yours, and mine
that a thousand years hence either you or I or they
    will see and hear it yet again
        much as it burned itself into the dusk,
        into that deepest evening indigo.

So good the taste of salt upon the tongue,
    upon the lip of ocean's edge,
        upon the shore upon the islet
        where no one had ever been.

So fond the heart for the dying days.
    So lonely the heart for the morrow for which
        desire longs, eager in its waiting

        for the rose-nippled dawn
to seduce yet all again.
Honorable Mention
Fifties Flashback
by Jennifer Lagier

A Sears repairman removed
the pegboard back of our giant
black and white TV, fussed inside.

He’s cleaning out the dead cowboys,
Daddy told my sister and me
as we watched, open-mouthed.

I imagined cold, stiff piles
of shot-down desperadoes,
swept away with gray dust.

Now my father is gone; nights bring
blurry reruns of past peach harvests,
truck rides he gave us to the cannery and back.

At the grading station, he
hitched up perpetually sagging levis,
handed me a quarter to purchase strawberry pop.

I miss our Saturdays, simple monochrome westerns,
Cisco and Pancho galloping to the rescue,
happy endings that last.
Honorable Mention
Ten Minutes
by Judy Kronenfeld

My father always set the alarm
            ten minutes early—4:50 instead of
            5:00 A.M.—so he could fall back
            into a gauzy sleep on the hide-a-bed
            in the living room. Perhaps he was gentling
            himself, showing himself a deliberate
            kindness, by adding a step
between oblivion     and the icy jolt
of another exhausting day. Perhaps his sleep
            was made that much more delicious
            because he was almost conscious of it,        
            almost enjoyed the sensation of sleeping
            while sleeping, thought ah, ten…nine…eight…seven
more long minutes (as I did, following his lead
            on interminable high school mornings), before,
            rank with sleep sweat, he sat
            a few seconds in striped boxers
            and ribbed undershirt, then hauled
            himself up to shower in our tiny
bathroom, humid with laundry,
and get dressed for work.  

            It’s terrifying how far back
            this memory goes. I feel as if
            I’ve had to lie on my belly
            with a head lamp and inch forward
            in the dark to see it. And now I grab hold
            of it, as if he could have ten minutes
            again, and I could grant them because
I remember how he treasured them:
            ten minutes good as pre-dinner cupcakes for a kid
who’s been bullied at school when at last
at home; ten more minutes
of breathing, for me to see him,
nine, eight, seven, six—as if
ten minutes would sweeten arm-twisting
death, or gentle us into braving his.