I want to follow Naomi

June 10, 2024

A photograph of ripe grain in the field

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.