Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A Living Will

This poem was first written as part of a  story and has been published in its present form by Mark Ulyseas of Live Encounters Magazine at Live Encounters Poetry Feast December 2016.


A Living Will


After I’m gone, say

the God I barely recognised

was indivisible.

Just One.


After I’ve gone, don’t

recite Kaddish. The

dying is for me.

Not Him.


Make the funeral short.

Let my body burn.

Should these requests be

judged thoughtless, most

perverse, let it be known

that I deserve no prayers,

praise, lies or crocodile tears.


What I did was wrong.

You’ll know this -

after I’ve gone.


Buy less milk and butter.

Turn the heating low.

Feed the cat. Cut

the kids’ hair monthly,

check their homework’s done.

Remind them they are Jewish -

after I’m gone.


When you make

Jack’s barmitzvah,

do invite my mum.

It’ll be good for

her to see him

wear Dad’s prayer shawl.


After I’m gone, carry

on as normal. Have

Janie round for tea.

I find your loving


Let’s not pretend.

It’s clear. She’s

a better mother

than I’d ever be.


After I’m gone,

pin a notice on our door.

“This woman,”

it should read,

“seemed honourable,

kind, fair; steadfast,

generous, taught her

children well.


“But as the final drips

of life seeped from her,

measured by the agonised

ticking of the clock, the

truth poured out.


“In a dream she

killed her father,

made mad her daughter,

then watched agape

as oblivion snatched

her, too.”


© Natalie Wood (19 October 2016)



Thursday, 13 October 2016

This Nobel Prize Is No Joke!

As luck would have it,  I was reading an obituary of Italian Nobel literary laureate, Dario Fo when news broke about this year’s winner, Bob Dylan.

But the coincidence does not end there. 

Bob.DylanJust as some people  like historian and Telegraph columnist, Tim Stanley opine  that Dylan “hasn’t written any literature”, when Fo received his award,  “the announcement rankled with many within the Italian literary and political establishment. Fo’s critics considered him to be a performer above all else  … (and) literary critic Geno Pampaloni wrote in the right-wing national press: “A Nobel Prize? It’s a joke.”

But here I want to confine myself to lauding both Dylan’s strong tribal bonds and his unswerving loyalty to Israel  even when harassed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Indeed, like others, I’ve been surprised to learn of his almost irrational support for extremist right-wing Rabbi Meir Kahane and to discover his song, Neighborhood Bully. This was written after the 1982 Lebanon war and likens Israel to an 'exiled man' who is unjustly labelled as an aggressor for fending off constant attacks.



Neighborhood Bully

Well, the neighborhood bully, he’s just one man
His enemies say he’s on their land
They got him outnumbered about a million to one
He got no place to escape to, no place to run
He’s the neighborhood bully



The neighborhood bully just lives to survive
He’s criticized and condemned for being alive
He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin
He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in
He’s the neighborhood bully

The neighborhood bully been driven out of every land
He’s wandered the earth an exiled man
Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn
He’s always on trial for just being born
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he knocked out a lynch mob, he was criticized
Old women condemned him, said he should apologize.
Then he destroyed a bomb factory, nobody was glad
The bombs were meant for him. He was supposed to feel bad
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, the chances are against it and the odds are slim
That he’ll live by the rules that the world makes for him
’Cause there’s a noose at his neck and a gun at his back
And a license to kill him is given out to every maniac
He’s the neighborhood bully

He got no allies to really speak of
What he gets he must pay for, he don’t get it out of love
He buys obsolete weapons and he won’t be denied
But no one sends flesh and blood to fight by his side
He’s the neighborhood bully

Well, he’s surrounded by pacifists who all want peace
They pray for it nightly that the bloodshed must cease
Now, they wouldn’t hurt a fly. To hurt one they would weep
They lay and they wait for this bully to fall asleep
He’s the neighborhood bully

Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone
Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon
He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand
In bed with nobody, under no one’s command
He’s the neighborhood bully

Now his holiest books have been trampled upon
No contract he signed was worth what it was written on
He took the crumbs of the world and he turned it into wealth
Took sickness and disease and he turned it into health
He’s the neighborhood bully

What’s anybody indebted to him for?
Nothin’, they say. He just likes to cause war
Pride and prejudice and superstition indeed
They wait for this bully like a dog waits to feed
He’s the neighborhood bully

What has he done to wear so many scars?
Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars?
Neighborhood bully, standing on the hill
Running out the clock, time standing still
Neighborhood bully

Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

© Natalie Wood (13 October 2016)

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Celebrating ‘Jewtown’



Just in time for the Jewish New Year I’ve received  a sweet gift of poetry celebrating the story of the once vibrant Jewish community of Cork City, Ireland.

Jewtown**, a debut collection by Jewish-Irishman Simon Lewis, continues where academics leave off by offering us a fictionalised, whimsical account of the citizens’ private lives. We learn how, like other east European Jews fleeing persecution, they were duped into landing at the wrong port (Foot), initially disdained by the locals for appearing akin to aliens (The Zoo), then began to climb the economic ladder via menial labour (Creosote, Spit) sometimes having to resort even to bartering with food – and then themselves (Two Sisters).

There are nods to popular  Ashkenazi Jewish dishes like cholent (Sabbath stew) and chopped herring; references to times of mourning  (Shiva) and to end, a prose poem marking  the death of the entire community with The Last Sabbath at South Terrace Synagogue. The closure happened only in February this year.

Lewis, the principal of a primary school in Carlow, Ireland, has taken an unusual and vivid approach to teaching the wider world about his Lithuanian Jewish roots, which he continues to explore with great charm and unflagging gusto. It is no surprise that he has already  been widely published and won awards for his work.

I am perhaps the first Jewish person to review Jewtown but others – far more distinguished! - are sure to follow soon. The video clip below was recorded at the Irish Jewish Museum for its archives.

I conclude with Tashlich, a seasonal and painfully sad look at the privations endured by many immigrant Jews after they fled west to escape the persecution they had suffered elsewhere. Tashlich is a New Year ceremony in which  bread is thrown symbolically on flowing waters to cast away a person’s sins.




I toss breadcrumbs in the river

and pray to God for forgiveness:

for the food I stole from the houses

in empty shtetls, the lies to the soldiers

at every checkpoint all the way

to the harbour at Riga, and the evenings

where I could barely breathe,

questioning my faith, broken from the day.

This year, I thank God for a mattress

on a dirt floor, a small knob of butter

melted in mashed potato, to be able

to walk without looking behind me.


** Jewtown is published by the Doire Press in paperback @ €12.00 ($13.65; £10.40 approx.)

© Natalie Wood (01 October 2016)

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה

Alwayswriteagain: 5777 כתיבה וחתימה טובה:   The first day of Rosh Hashana , the Jewish New Year, falls next week, Monday 03 October 2016. May everyone who is celebrating have a gr...

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

On Rachel’s Birthday …

Israelis love their writers so much that many  are lauded as latter-day seers and saints.

Rachel BluwsteinSo it is with Rachel Bluwstein whose 126th birthday is celebrated today by Google Israel. Indeed, so revered and renowned does she remain even 85 years after her death, that she is still referred to simply as ‘Rachel The Poetess’.

Earlier this summer during a visit to Tiberias, I attempted to make a pilgrimage to her gravesite at the old cemetery, overlooking Lake Kinneret. But despite spending more than hour there wandering among the many fading headstones  and poorly tended plots, I was unable to find it.  I would appreciate a word from anyone who can point me in the right direction for a future occasion.

I conclude here with Perhaps, taken from the Anthology of Modem Hebrew Poetry, translated from the Hebrew by A.C. Jacobs.

Rachel Bluwstein Google


Perhaps it was never so.
I never woke early and went to the fields
To labour in the sweat of my brow
Nor in the long blazing days
Of harvest
On top of the wagon laden with sheaves,
Made my voice ring with song
Nor bathed myself clean in the calm
Blue water
Of my Kinneret. O, my Kinneret,
Were you there or did I only dream?


© Natalie Wood (20 September 2016)

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Jewish Dadaist Without Borders

Jacob GlatshteynJacob Glatstein (Yankev Glatshteyn) was one of the great figures of mid-20th century American Yiddish literature.

I mention him now because Words Without Borders, which promotes cultural understanding through the translation and publication of contemporary international writing, features his work in its current newsletter.

I am intrigued by this piece, translated by Asya Vaisman Schulman, as on a first reading, I mistakenly assumed it to be a sly satire of Ladino  -  Judeo-Spanish and Sephardi Jewry’s linguistic counterpart to Ashkenazi Yiddish.

However, research tells me that Glatshteyn designed it as a ‘dadaist hymn to Yiddish’ and used it in a public reading in November 1966, during which he asked his audience not to applaud between each poem so they may “have the opportunity without distraction to immerse themselves fully in the sound, rhythm and texture of the poetry.”


Sing Ladino

Sing Ladino, you blond songer,
Our magicjargonino,
Multicolored chattering,
Multitongued languageing
Sundownino, nino-nino,
Finegolden radiating, bursting—
All the breads, all the deaths,
All the taigas, all the tundras,
All the wonders multicolored,
All the wicks, all the skins,
Yellowred and Falashino,
Palestino speakerino,
Ours, our universladino,
You, blond Alladino, sing.

From the deeps and the stilldeepers,
Slavic, Luvavich, Turkavic,
Pollackic, Kazakhic,
Greekish and Teutonic,
Caucasian, Ashkenazi,
Carpathian and Asatic –
Our languagenoiseration,
Our tragic multihyping,
Our bulkheap, our buzzing,
Our Latvic, our
Scrawny thoughtster,
You blond songer,
Sing Ladino.

© Natalie Wood (13 September 2016)

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Disinheritance and Continuation

John Sibley WilliamsIn less than a month this past summer American writer John Sibley Williams has become the father of twins and produced a new collection of hauntingly beautiful verse.



Even so, the title of this latest book is Disinheritance **.

But unlike other readers who have offered it unstinting praise, I find the volume deeply disquieting. At a time when many fathers would write joyously of the new lives they have helped to create, Sibley devotes himself to death and mourning. Disinheritance

Further, as one poem in the collection is titled A Dead Boy Speaks to His Parents, it is followed by another, Things Start at Their Names. The latter refers to ‘Gabriel’ – also the name of his new-born son and means “God is my strength”.  Enough said!

Williams also writes fiction, is a free-lance literary agent, publicist and presently the marketing director of Inkwater Press, a self-publishing company. So I was surprised to note printing errors in the final poem, Denouement.


Can I say that a child died inside us
when all we have conceived is a name
for what could be?

We’ve built a cradle of nails and wood
to house a body too busy dying
to rest, a trophy of grief
we polish in case of tomorrow.

Yet still he cannot see through
the eyes I tried to give him.

My mother has woven a shroud
to warm the son, blue for the sky
and gold for its promise, black
around the edges to resemble
the distances between them.

Our friends have their mantra
the world will wait for you
and we have our reply
spelled out in silence.


** Disinheritance is published by Apprentice House @ $6.99 (Kindle) and $11.99 (Paperback).

© Natalie Wood (13 September 2016)