Rachel Heimowitz


Rise, Awake and Sing

“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust”
(Isaiah 26:19)

A medieval town where nothing stands straight,
where Kafka sat, slept, ate. Where time
reads backwards on a Hebrew clock and a Golem
waits in an attic for the electric shock of life.
Eight hundred years, a thriving ghetto:
yellow hats, yellow circles, yellow stars;
a child’s cut-out of betrayal.

My G-d the soul you have placed in me is pure.

A shul, a great gravestone, vacant,
unused; the winter sun reflects
off the ceiling’s vault. The wall’s hue
up close becomes something new,
letters, black and red: names:
in Moravia, listed by town,
in Bohemia, by province,
dates of birth and death, a wallpaper
tattoo, back to back, names stacked—
a ladder of names—
eighty thousand dead.

You created it; you have formed it; you have breathed it into me.

On the eastern wall:
Emil (b. 1868-d.1942) straightens
his tie. Berta (b.1874-d.1942) turns,
lights the flame, knowing
warmth fills the house night and day.

On the west:
Hedvika (b. 1914-d.1942) steps
into her pumps, sets her hat,
makes her way to the train.

On the southern wall
with the sun’s glance upon them:
Karolina (b. 1932-d.1942) skipping rope.
Oskar (b. 1930-d.1943), a stick, an old wheel,
a downward slope—

You preserve it within me; You will take it from me,

Trying to be Hapsburgs; German impeccable.
Heads high past the guard, one thousand
at a time, boarding trains with favorite dolls,
candlesticks, a bedroll. Delivered
to Terezin, where no one was allowed
to outgrow their shoes. Through
the Schleuse. On the other side
everything removed but a ration card.

Later, on Auschwitz trains, their prayer
is for a bite of bread when they arrive.
Instead stripped, shaved, showers
of foul air. No survivors–only ashes
at the bottom of the Vistula River.

and restore it to me in the hereafter….

You, who line these walls, you are the dry bones,
the flesh formed around the original egg,
the porous souls,
the pure water poured that swept us home,

the bridge between the grave
and the land, ashes fused into rocky
soil, hills that ascend
like milkfat breasts. Your arms, the towns

that hold us; your smiles the rivers
that spring forth, spill over, fall with laughter.
You are the kibbutz fence at night;
your hearts the iron that guards us.

Karolina, Oskar, you fill the schools and parks
while Hedvika sips coffee at the café.

Emil is on his way to shul, as thousands
of Bertas cover their hair at the siren’s sound,

strike the match, draw in the holy
flame and bless the Shabbat candles.

Blessed are You, O Hashem, who restores the souls of the dead.



In Dali

mountains rise right out of the road,
blue-green dowagers, thick with oyster
mushroom clouds that climb and puff
around them like ermine coats. Along

the side of the road, the river aqueducts
down through town, a sunny sound that echoes
the voices that buzz and snap like dragonflies.
Ah, China!—

where I am alone always in a crowd, my round eyes,
my white skin hold me in the public eye.
An old woman waves me over, speaks quickly,
her mouth opens and closes over a few yellowed

teeth, her face a lit candle that has sat by the bedside
through a lifetime of days, the rising and sleeping, the laundry,
the meals, the making and raising of children.
When she reaches up to me, I must bend

down to her hands, which she places on my head
like a rabbi bestowing a blessing. She then touches
her own head, the lavender kerchief that covers
her white hair that fluffs

out the sides, so like the dark blue kerchief that covers
my own dark hair. She gestures and laughs,
and I understand and reach my hands to touch
her delicate head and then touch my own,

and though I cannot explain to her why I wear
a kerchief, my hair always covered, a sign
of my marriage and my place in this world,
we hold each other’s heads, look into each other’s eyes,

and giggle. I bend, put my arms around her bantam
frame and pull her against me; the smell of her sweat
a living thing, the heat of her life against my face,
“Nainai” I whisper into her ear.

She holds me away, her hands on my cheeks,
her eyes, dark as a good joke, tell me
all I need to know: that being a woman

is a fine thing. That my life will stretch
out like the road in Dali. That water
will spill down, green things will grow.
That I too will know comfort wrapped in a coat of clouds.


Walking the Land

You lounge, waves caress you in your indolent pose:
an arm tucked, a knee bent, feet dangled in the Red Sea.
I want to walk barefoot in your desert, gold and aerose.

Your volcanic black hair splashes, it shimmers, it flows;
your eyes, fresh as snow, gaze down to the valley,
as you stretch. Waves linger where you’re exposed.

The wind rubs against you, releases those anagogic moans,
sweeps over you from ocean to Sea of Galilee.
I want to walk barefoot over your undulant folds.

Aroused by your scent: orange, eucalyptus, both
in fields of goldenrods, poppies, soft leafy greens.
You laugh, waves embrace you in your repose.

Your heart is where God lives, city of ancient stones.
I want to bury my face, breathe in your history;
I want to walk barefoot, revealed, where the Temple rose.

Promised to our Fathers, our key, our ancient home;
your warm recesses nurture, provide abundantly.
You are dry air, sunshine, where everything grows,
and I want to walk barefoot, endlessly, over all of those.



After Dyce’s Jacob and Rachel
“Then Jacob kissed Rachel; and he raised his voice and wept.” (Genesis 29:11)

Running from Esav,
from Eliphaz, from a blind
father, from a stolen
blessing, running
in salt and sweat and dust,
still wearing his deceptive
costume, eyes rimmed
from rocky nights
taking on a millennia’s
worth of promises: “I will return
you to this soil; I will not forsake
you”, running into the sunrise’s
certain future, a covered well,
a flock of sheep,
a girl who glints
off the desert’s hot
sand in cerulean and cinnabar,
a girl more real than the fragrant
night, a girl so real, so touchable
that she is touched, really touched,
her amenable hand held
to his calcine heart, his other
wrapped around her neck,
touching skin luminous
as morning milk, chin cast
down, amative, waiting,
the susurrant silence,
the rasp of sheep, and a kiss.

And deep in Rachel’s eye,
he sees their future
spread out like a desert,
he sees a woman named Nava
in 2003, the entrance of the cafe,
music of cup and saucer, a father
and a daughter, a quiet
moment together the night
before a wedding, a boy
oiled into a heavy
suicide vest, the throb
of his heart exposed
in the black bomb
under his coat, fast he hits
the button, and then nothing,
nothing left of Nava, nothing
of her father, nothing
but her wedding dress,
which hangs, white and empty,
a parochet in the tomb
where Rachel is condemned,
buried away from him, alone
on the road that stretches
from Jerusalem to Hebron.

He sees Nava, that eternal
bride, her dress cinched
with red strings, damp
with the tears of barren women,
and Jacob throws
back his head and cries.

in memory of Nava Applebaum (1983-2003)


Rachel Heimowitz is an emerging poet living in Israel. Her work has appeared, or is due to appear in Prairie Schooner, Poetry Quarterly, Poetica, Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology and elsewhere. Her poems were nominated for The 2013 Pushcart Prize. Rachel is currently pursuing her MFA at Pacific University.