Two Poems

Photo by Zvika Melamed
Photo by Zvika Melamed


Song of the Younger Brother


I can think of nothing but the
little one,
the younger brother.

He holds his father’s hand.
Peering into the camera,
he scrunches up
his little face.

The world is all made
of this, his
younger brother
sweetness –

because he is
in his younger brother world
doubly safe, doubly secure.

There should be nothing

left in the world

after his little body

on the beach

And where is the older brother?
He of the serious gaze –
where is he?

Lost to the serious sea.

If pain made a sound
the world would be
a steady hum

all the time.

Sequestered in
forever now
held lost

in empty arms


          (for Aylan and Ghalib Kurdi)




Autumn Tercets

(October–December 2015)

In home caves, in corners, in dark quiet 
of the temporarily safe, we huddle 
and wait

for the killings and not
the killings to reach not
to reach us.

My daughter studies Plato’s Cave.
She says, “I know 
we are them.”

And though
with knowing she is loosed
from those chains, still

the flames
all the while engrave
heat and deep stinging

into her lovely
long back.

The eastern winds like evening 
jackals in the final shadowed wadi 
never stop howling.

In first darkness they
scale the stony slope, thick
paws pounding at lowered blinds.

Our house circled, they hurl
themselves at panes and never stop

With first rain after 
the winds, the stabbings, 
house demolitions, retaliatory shootings,

politicians’ obscenities, targeted
assassinations, random street killings –
all pause. Garden weeds

sprout suddenly to
become a gracious green
blanket spread

over the deep creviced dirt.
Only then do I note
I have long since

stopped noting
the names of each day’s
newly dead.

It was a long autumn. 
Winter refused 
to come.

Photo by Stéphane Chaumet

Poet and translator Rachel Tzvia Back lives in the Galilee, where her great-great-great-grandfather settled in the 1830s. Her poetry collections include A Messenger Comes (elegies), On Ruins & Return, Azimuth, and the forthcoming collection entitled What Use Is Poetry, the Poet Is Asking. Her most recent translation project, On the Surface of Silence: The Last Poems of Lea Goldberg, will be published in spring 2017.