Rachel Tzvia Back

Rachel Tzvia Back | Photo: Stephane Chaumet

Rachel Tzvia Back – poet, translator, and professor of literature – lives in the Galilee, where her great great great grandfather settled in the 1830s. Her most recent publication, A Messenger Comes, is a collection of elegies. Previous poetry collections include Litany, Azimuth and On Ruins & Return: Poems 1999-2005. Back’s translations of the poetry of pre-eminent Hebrew poet Lea Goldberg, published in Lea Goldberg: Selected Poetry and Drama, represent the most extensive selection of Goldberg’s poetry in English and were awarded a 2005 PEN Translation Award. More recently, Back’s translations of octogenarian poet Tuvia Ruebner were awarded a Yehoshuah Rabinowitz grant and are forthcoming in As Long As: Selected Poems of Tuvia Ruebner. A professor of English Literature at Oranim College, Haifa, Back has also lectured widely in the U.S., and in 2009 she was Brownstone Visiting Professor at Dartmouth. Back was the editor and primary translator of the English version of the anthology With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry (SUNY Excelsior Editions 2009) – a collection named “haunting” and “historic” by Adrienne Rich.

Notes: from a Foreigner’s Diary

This is solitude     No one
sits in the doorway
patient as seas
as buried
beads and copper
coins unearthed by
unstoried storms
shining for
No one
in the distance.

In the crowded room
of coiled
sibilant flow
coded and closed to me
the foreigner –
at a measured distance
from those who clothe and
claim me –
I can hear the steady hum
of bees
trapped in the curtains’ folds.

From the stone verandah
I see almond trees
sitting low
in the orchard –
they are gentle rows
of bright-haired children
before a blackboard
their petaled selves
astir with
the thrilled certainty
they have all the right answers.

The Old One watches
over these fields –
he is a mountain half-
crafted by the Fathers.
At his modest peak
a stone beak that held
waters once
is dry and wild now
with thicket weeds:
those one-time
become a tangled harbor
for all the windblown.

And the silence – more
arrogant than air
more insistent
than the unraveled-by-desire lover –
its heavy hand on my chest
each beat until
the darkboned ear
to its outer rim.

In my sleep
I undream myself

Angled alleys abandon
their houses shed
maroon shutters and arched
door to wander off
alone as I watch

When I wake
my clenched jaws ache
my mouth has forgotten the taste
of my own textured consonants
my own lovely

As though a season
of weaning
in the darkened room.

The emptied space is
unuttered   un

At a distance though
not far
I hear a tender sea

lay itself down
to sleep.

                Mojacar, Andalusia
                from A Messenger Comes, Singing Horse Press, 2012

Poetry in this post: © Rachel Tzvia Back
Photo: Stephane Chaumet
Published with the permission of Rachel Tzvia Back