The Voices Israel Group of Poets

in English

Reuben Rose Winning Poems 2014

Results of the 2014 Reuben Rose Poetry Competition:

Judges: Willa Schneberg, USA; Miriam Green, Israel; Breindel Lieba Kasher, Israel

1st prize –
Elizabeth Claverie – “Valparaíso and Neruda

2nd prize – Bill Freedman – “What's Played

3rd prize – Gretti Izak – “on the bend of a rainbow

Honorable mentions in random order:

David Silverman - "Midnight Cowboy"
Celia Merlin - "Ozymandias Revisited"
Meir Weksler - "Infinities"
Rochelle Mass - "Once Upon a Time"
Johnmichael Simon - "Books I Never Opened"
Judith R. Robinson - "Desperados"
Richard Shavei-Tzion - "Hula Valley"
Steven Sher - "Hoodie"
Yehudit Goldfarb - "Sparks of Light"
Jane Seitel - "Joseph's Bones"

First Prize
Valparaíso and Neruda
by Elizabeth Claverie

they lean on each other
the wooden slats, the ruffles of tin walls, fences to the cliff’s edge
yards and yards of desperate stairs
they lean back against the hill to keep from
falling into the sea;
faded and beaten, on a slant,
like old poets whose berets sit solid and secure,
the words shared between them
shore them against the buffeting wind.

      *Pablo Neruda hid in Valparaíso while communism was outlawed in

Second Prize
What's Played
by Bill Freedman

Softball, soccer, the saxophone too loud next door at 6am,
a cello eerily at midnight.
Poker for more money than he had.
She warned him not to, but he played
on her weakness for his folly, and she gave in.
The dogs and ponies, Keno. The phonograph
and CD player, Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden.”
Old radio broadcasts: Fred Allen, The Answer Man,
Jack Armstrong, Inner Sanctum and The Quiz Kids
on a tape deck. You’re almost in tears.
Chess with your son, letting him win, fattening his ego
till he’s good enough to beat you and you beg off,
saying you’re tired, the weather’s good, and he should be outside,
playing, getting fresh air and exercise.
Moonlight with water, a glittering path
as from another world or life,
studded for angels or the dead, who miss it here —
or to it.
Wind with birch leaves, like baby hands or castanets,
through the crack in the sliding glass door against the sea,
so it sounds like sirens, jackals, a terrible loneliness,
an Arab mother grieving.
Possum, like Ali on the ropes, waiting his turn.
Dead, like the Ukrainian Jew under layers of bodies
in the pit at Babi Yar, gagging on blood, praying for dark.
The Ten Commandments at the Roosevelt Theater
where the Filipino Yo-Yo champ does loop the loop
and walk the dog to your amazement.
An old widow, sending her savings to the man who sounded
so earnest and believable on e-mail, for a sucker.
The prettiest coed at the reading, maybe literally this time,
for a sucker.
Doctor with the little girl next door. Yours first.
Hide and Seek, Giant Steps, Cops and Robbers,
Three Steps Off to Germany.
Taps at Flanders, Arlington and Normandy,
for the dead.
Third Prize
on the bend of a rainbow
by Gretti Izak
when he died the green tumbled and drowned.
their one perfect eye flew upward in the air. 
days, nights, light and darkness all swam 
in a dusky, lunar haze. she wavered and shook.
hunger, thirst came next  and there was more.
her anger would not abate. she placed herself
in a relationship with the most laden and long-
standing of vigils, which burned more fiercely
than hate. “you have no heart,” she said,
yelling into his ear. then she saw her face as a
jewel, a flame, a tear. it leapt skywards in the
shape of a flower. he reached out his hand to
grasp it and they flew upward in the air to part
where a boat swollen with light carried him
beyond the darkness. she came to herself on
the bend of a rainbow, their one perfect eye in
her keeping, the translucent green all around her.
“i am all of him now,” she thought, and wept.
Honorable Mention
Midnight Cowboy
by David Silverman
In the Golan, an honest-to-God cowboy rides his horse
across the rocky hills, 40-liter hat shading his eyes.
Just another Jew with his head covered. The Marlboro
Man, circumcised. John Wayne, Bar Mitzvahed. Through
wintry fog, through shimmering heat, the cowboy leads
his herd to nourishing patches of green, watches them eat
and shit, eat and shit, eat and shit. But, he is never bored.
There are wild irises in the spring, the call of the raptor,
the sleek gazelle, the badger, the boar and, once, a leopard
stalking prey, a scene few have ever seen. He knows where
pools of fresh water collect, where to find almonds and pecans,
hyssop and thyme. The cowboy knows each cow by name;
which prefer the company of others, which seek out private
spots to munch and think deep, bovine thoughts. How strong
his rough hands. They are identity card and passport; proof of
the life he has chosen, the country he calls home. And late at
night, he sips hot coffee—he cannot believe how good coffee
tastes—and when he is finished, not ready yet for sleep, he is
content to watch the nightly star-show and listen to the silence.
Honorable Mention
Ozymandias Revisited
by Celia Merlin
   (after the sonnet by Percy Bysshe Shelley)
No one will write a book of my life. Or a script for a movie, a score for a play.
No Wikipedia will journal my trail, early life and career.
No one will uncover the secrets I take, no aunts will fill gaps
in the me that you knew. And if they do, soon enough they will fade
and evade with the days.

My name will pass on, as Celine or Celeste or Emma Sophia.
And my recipes will be known as “Sophie’s Souffle” or “Sadie’s Sage Chicken”,
with no scent of me in the steam.

No works will be found in my dresser or laptop before they are given
or tossed in the street.

I am no Winston Churchill, Galileo Galilei.
I have built no bridges or composed fat concertos that
may lengthen my stay for a spell.

I’m the man at the counter, the girl at the dance,
the kid with the baseball, the guy with the truck.
I will not be remembered.
I am me I am you,
with the wave of a hand,
the whiff of a breath,
like the flight of a leaf
I am gone.

Honorable Mention
by Meir Weksler

1. ER –    A biking fall, no trauma. Couldn’t press the brake or control the handle. 
They said it was A.L.S., but their eyes said
more, fleeing mine: one thousand days or
about to cross the hole of disconnect, as if
I would want so many moons of limb deafness
and dysfunction; as if they could find a neuron
savior, plug it into my spinal cord and stop
my body from turning silent, my
bonds to the world from crumbling

2. Neuro –     Orphan disease. No cure. Life expectancy: thirty-nine months.
Three hundred and fifty more days to go;
they said it could have happened to anyone:
wrong folding of molecules, like
curled edges on a bride’s dress,
this cousin of death on my back,
lying on sheets of misshaped
proteins; limbs, motor neurons,
turned into forgotten islands.

3. Visitor –     Oxygen mask. I could see his eyes. He spoke with echoes of rushing air. If I closed my eyes it would sound a bionic voice. But I would still see his thumb moving slightly in my mind, like a tiny feather on a day of almost no breeze.
My body is a desert of lost dunes,
my children see me motionless, maybe
they cry, maybe I cry when alone before
sleep comes; but my will is unbowed, like
a bayonet of obsession. By will I’ve climbed
Himalayan hills, by will I’ll fly my mind
out of this wheelchair, roll it into
this last marathon, no end line.

4. Wife –     Heart and brain are OK. He can even feel soft caressing. Or mosquito bites. He is a dimming muscle mass, a twinkling self of endless dreams.
It’s beyond me now, how many more days I stay
as a shadow of before; as I approach death
at light speed, I become a singularity:
infinite brain, infinitesimal body.
Honorable Mention
Once Upon a Time
by Rochelle Mass
Once upon a time
there were two grandmothers who talked
an old world language
then joined it with English
trying to be Canadian

one grandmother brought Russian songs
the other Ukrainian curses
both fled pogroms to a new home
talked of shame for bad behavior
filled their kitchens with sweet zeeskeit –

one grandmother raised geese
for pillows and quilts
then jellied the feet with garlic, stuffed the breast
with rice and raisins
the cartilage she carved into figures I played with

the other had a treadle Singer
bobbins, cotton, ribbons
tumbled out of drawers
she made me skirts in every color
a doll
from Zaida’s frayed socks –

when I’m a grandmother I’ll have
baskets of buttons, also a goose
I’ll tell my grandchildren how lovely they are
sprinkle their heads with only the bright side of Yiddish
bake chremslech dumplings with beets and honey
turn dough into knishes, slice mandelbroit into strips

I won’t worry about the evil eye
nor will I twist a live chicken over my head
for Yom Kippur sins
but I will cover my face before Shabbes candles
to bless my daughters’ babies
as my grandmothers did for me.
Honorable Mention
Books I Never Opened
by Johnmichael Simon
When father and mother
packed our belongings into crates and sailed away 
from the old house they shared for years
with my paternal grandparents
its living room flanked by shelves 
of gold-embossed holy books, which as a child
seemed to me had seldom been opened
a handful of secular books, unpretentious

in their canvas covers, somehow survived
and made their way across the ocean
to a new chapter of my childhood.

Two of these sat for years
side-by-side in a built-in bookshelf
and I, immersed in robots, time machines
and space adventures, hardly gave them a thought
as they lay forgotten – rescued relics from
my parents’ past – parents who grew further apart
from each other, in their preoccupations, 
their separate lives, that unbeknown to me then,
would soon part them forever.

Looking back, decades later, I can still
see those two books, one pink, the other brown,
rubbing shoulders in some closed-covered mutual act
of disregard, like strangers who pass daily on the street
wordless, avoiding eye contact, just two old books
in implausible juxtaposition:
“World Without Borders” and
“The Man Who Understood Women”
titles, each in its own way, representing a wish, un-granted
my father passed down to his son.
Honorable Mention
by  Judith R. Robinson
At first, when a lack of rain came upon us
we paid scant attention.
We had just met Yochi and fair Yardena.
We meant to water the garden more often;
mentioned it, twice, on the Fourth of July.

Summer wore on. For want of water
the wrens flew away.
You decided to go to the Cape,
a shipwright’s job might be available.
The garden had drifted dry as ash,
the vines withered to brown.
We had let it all go.

I wore a party dress, lavender and gold,
when we met, accidentally,
next year in September.
You reminded me of Zvi Allon,
the copyist of Renoir
who rendered dresses like mine
in bold blots of color.

Our lovemaking that afternoon
happened with purpose, with weight;
we held on as true as we could,
as if there were still chances:
one more grand summer storm,
green lightening,
a murderous downpour of rain.
Honorable Mention
Hula Valley
by Richard Shavei-Tzion
Gone the abundant day
evening civilization swelled
on the vast midnight plain
we stood astonished
sightless except for formless treetops
as the cacophony enveloped us
a million discernible calls
giving vent to inherited memory
of another odyssey on the homing path
We paused for precious rest
like the great squadrons
their ancestral beckoning
demanding early flight
Then again we waited
as the lake awakened
geese fled in surprise
great white stalk flapped through mirrored reeds
indignant at our presence
Couched between morning mist
and dawn’s yellow flash
the multitude rose off the swamp in turn
rippled wings cutting the air
they crafted a dark canopy in the sky
then disciplined contour climbed away
Ascending to the southward currents
they slowly diminished to a fine line of imagination
leaving the indigenous
to savanna’s languid tranquility.
Honorable Mention
by Steven Sher
I spot his yellow hoodie behind the bushes
in the playground by our house. Most days he claims
the low stone wall outside our courtyard in the shadows,
legs crossed, arms resting on his knees except for
the occasional lifting of the bottle to his mouth
and the slight tilt of his head. Sometimes he asks for
money—tzedakah among the first words he learned
once he snuck in from the Sinai. The police
don’t seem to care whether he sleeps on the street
or in a hovel of hoodies—one of a dozen slight black men
sinking in darkness, shrinking from pursuers
who appear or are imagined. My grandson and the other
children arrive at the playground soon after breakfast;
young mothers form a talking fence between them
and the solitary Eritrean, a lone tree with shallow roots
planted in a strange land. One complaint, like a good wind,
would uproot him in an instant. I stare at him, try to see past
scars and gauge glazed eyes, but can’t forgive
the beer he grips now with both hands. Mid-morning’s
shadows lighten and grow short; sun brushes them back,
clearing the playground. If he hasn’t passed out, the hoodie
will be gone before the hot sun settles overhead.
But there could be two hoodies tomorrow morning,
this one and his buddy, occupying two dark corners of the park,
drinking beer before the rest of us have eaten,
two empties left atop the low stone wall before midday,
the bottle caps tossed in our way, another failed
and futile sowing crushed under our feet.
Honorable Mention
Sparks of Light
by Yehudit Goldfarb
Sparks of light float up into the grey sky
as I walk the narrow paths in Tzfat’s ancient cemetery.
Above the graves hovers a lone hawk in total stillness,
not moving forward, nor back, held firmly
within the midpoint of invisible crosscurrents,
as if it has come to collect the good deeds
accumulated by souls whose earthly vessels
lie quiet in separate chambers beneath memorial stones–
stones that honor those who walked the winding streets
of the city on the hill.  I stop to watch the sparks,
an abundance of tiny, shining lights rising, rising
above the newly green foliage between the aged markers.
Minute after minute passes as I witness this miracle of the sparks,
until they are no longer visible in the cold March air,
and the hawk glides south on an upward wave of the wind.
Honorable Mention
Joseph's Bones
by Jane Seitel

As if these bones were a kestrel’s—
hollow, made for ascending; this collarbone
a wishbone; this sternum a keel for wings:
Then could I sail aloft, even to heaven.
Would you be there, Joseph, & for an instant,
could we be twined without threads,
without knots? Might we soar, effortless,
downwind of night, to come to be in Zion:
The last of my splinters dissolved
but not crushed.
The spring of my mother’s death,
I found the slender avian bones strewn
on the east side of the stream which decades
ago my child self crossed.

The bones were encrusted & porous,
flesh stripped off by a predator,
femur split open, revealing small struts
within honeycombed walls, a skeleton
airy as driftwood. It was a time before
tadpoles hatched in the pond, before the spring
ephemerals pushed yellow through the thick mulch
of sodden leaves. & I remember picking up
the bones, as though I would break; wrapping them
in white linen, a monogramed handkerchief I found
in mother’s chest— carrying them over the stream
as if they were Joseph’s bones.