I want to follow Naomi

A photograph of ripe grain the field
Photo by ongap / Stock.adobe.com

for Naomi Shihab Nye 
Eid al-Fitr Shavuot Pentecost 2021 

I want to follow Naomi
to walk in her footsteps to
gather with her only the gentle
words like fallen wheat stalks 
gleaned from the field after 
the harvest is done. 


I want to follow Naomi’s eyes 
as they gaze around the shuttered 
souk and spy in the alley’s dirt 
a crumpled handkerchief 
just like the one her father had. 
I want to look where she looks, at 
that colored cloth he tucked 
in his jacket pocket, pert and 
smiling. I want to look there and not 
where my eyes always go to 
the thrown and angry stones 
still raging at our feet.


They are famished.
They are starving.
They are full of fear. 

The next and every harvest will be 
buildings become rubble piled high 
in the cratered streets where the buried 
are all love and hope and we keep 

Bringing dust to the dinner table.


She received six measures of barley gifted
Six measures of barley wrapped in a shawl
Six measures of barley from a kind stranger 
to keep hunger at bay


She’s Naomi not the Jew.
I’m Ruth not the Moabite.
We are both the daughters of our dead 
fathers who smiled at the other. 
I want to follow her. 

When the feast day comes
and there is no feast, only terror
gnawing on hollow-eyed children,
I’ll follow her.

Photo by David H. Aaron

Rachel Tzvia Back has published eleven books. Her poems and verse translations have received awards and recognitions, including the Times Literary Supplement Award, PEN Translation Prize, and finalist for the National Poetry Award in Translation. She is the recipient of various fellowships, including the Brown Foundation Fellowship at the Dora Maar House (France). Back is a professor of English literature at Oranim College in the Galilee.