Four Poems from Israel

translated by Aviya Kushner


Can you feel how the tips of my fingers
vibrate in a scream?
I am a simple woman of autumn,
flesh tanned from the end of summer
leaves me longing for the first rain.
Flowers of delight burst
when my daughter’s hand leans into mine,
as she toddles with little toes
next to me on the pavement.

Do you know, we are children of luck,
saved from the fall of pain
that spread in the world.
A new poem pushes its way to me,
asking, where do screams blow to?
And I push into the poem, say, go,
no more delicate words.
I want a scream,
a scream.


On the Day You Came

On the day you came to me I stripped off my clothes
and drew on my scars:
a Madonna lily, rare birds
and a lone brown dove.
The dove opened her mouth and said “Go”
but the lily rushed to burn the flesh
and the birds flew away and screamed,
rubbing their wings against each other,
raining on me and on my eyes
purple and gold feathers—
on the day you came to me.


Turkish Movie

At the bar on Rothschild Boulevard
at nearly four in the morning
the goddess of vengeance ignites
radiant blood
in a glass of Merlot.
A Turkish movie,
you said I made for you:
I give you tastes
of honey candy
scented with roses,
I lay your head
so you can dissolve in tears
between rachat lukum breasts,
feed you almonds and raisins
from the palm of my hand.
May your tongue be singed
so you will say thank you
that you were made by God.


Apples Wounded in Cinnamon 

Come here, my Saint Francis, 
knead, make me into crumbs with experienced fingers, 
into pieces of bread-rolls 
into circles of gold 
and scatter them to the doves in the city squares. 

I am a ruined woman, St. Francis, 
my birthplace is the wind 
the stigmata I made real in flesh 
gather me in burning mouths 
with silk limbs, 
to the place where they don’t declare his name 
where the taste is of apples wounded in cinnamon 
melt me in the spit of your tongue, holy, 
and weave me from the beginning into twisted braids of dough 

Translations from the Hebrew 

*Rachat lukum is “Turkish delight” candy, a soft, gel-like treat.

Yudit Shahar grew up on the border of Sh’chunat HaTikvah, “the neighborhood of hope,” in Tel Aviv. She is the author of the prizewinning poetry collections It’s Me Speaking (2009) and Every Street Has Its Own Madwoman (2013) and recently won the prestigious Prime Minister’s Prize in Hebrew Literature for her body of work. Holy Illusion, her third collection, was published in January 2021.

Photo by Danielle Aquiline

Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible (2015), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and the Sami Rohr Prize, and the poetry collection Wolf Lamb Bomb (April 2021). She is The Forward’s language columnist and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago.