from The Buffalo Poems

Rachel Tzvia Back

<>      (pray for the grace of accuracy)

Words repeated
until they lose all meaning

Once it was
desert desire dream

but the sand image failed
the dune was death    the desire

dark fragments
one would not own

as own in daylight
woven too tight with

power    none of it is

as imagined       dream
emptiest of all

for its bottomless nature for its
brash foolishness

I want to disallow

mangled howl severed
lean and curved

shapes on the page sounds
in my mouth

that say too little claim
to know but finally stand

empty empty as

as the emptied house

<>      (emptied house)

Outside the emptied house

there were soldiers on their knees

in the sand

sifting for body parts    moving

forward in a line they

crawled inch by inch through

sand gravel glass and weeds

wild with metal splinters

in search of lost slivers

of flesh skin nails smallest

drops of not-yet dried blood

that would have been    brothers

blown up on patrol jeep and men


into thin air this is no

smoke and mirrors magic trick

nothing left

resembling the human

but soldiers on their knees

in the sand

<>      (soldiers on their knees in the sand)

Grandfather who cut his nails
every Friday

before sunset and before his peaceful
Sabbath queen arrived

would save the pale slivers in a box
to be buried with him

Dust must return to dust he said
with not a single piece missing

The dream was of the day
the dead would rise

to be whole in the next world

The mothers watching
soldiers on their knees

sifting and searching for body parts
do not think of next worlds

they think only of
lost worlds:

their sons my sons
in the setting sun

building tunnels and towers
in the sand

<>      (their sons my sons)

Lost limbs again
             this time in a strawberry field

Early morning January sun rises
             gently talks softly to yesterday's
                         rain lingering still at field's edge

where perfect strawberries are ready for eating
             first day of the feast festival of the sacrifice
                         Ishmael taken to the hilltop Isaac carried away

This time it is mother Maryam who does not know
             the boys her boys woke early to a school-less day
                         they are racing now through the strawberry field

The red fruit is full sweet with dew and dawn
             is collecting night's blankets day is waiting to spread
                         her arms around us all in the fields and the boys cannot

say how from where there was no sign a bomb would fall
             in the early morning family field the boys do not know their legs
                         are bleeding their bodies lie still their limbs scattered half-boys

and dead boys none of them know how
             later before the funerals after the hospital Maryam
                         will return to the charred and beautiful

bleeding strawberry field
             to gather in her scarf scattered flowers
                         and flesh

[Gaza 11-1-05: bomb falls on 12 boys in a field. 7 boys killed; the 5 wounded all lost limbs]

<>      (press release)
                        January 26th 2004

Nobody was killed in al Nabi Saleh tonight


500 old and young

forced to stand hours in the cold

in the middle of night

in the rain

in the range

of snipers on the watchtower

and the children

in flannel pajamas with coats thrown over
                 thick in layers too loose and bulky to hold
       sweet calves baby buffalo their feet pushed hurried
into shoes without socks their small finger bones
       cold clay brittle in their parents' hands their faces
              still soft in sleep but eyes waking would be
eager or earnest now pulled to screeching jeeps and
              wild searchlights scattering sharp-cut lightbeams
                     like diamond treasures dreams in the dark
megaphones calling out calling names cutting
              silence into strips and coloring their racing hearts
                     crayon black

in the middle of the night

in the rain

in the range

of snipers

the children

thinking they dream

<>      (a dream)

The burnt-out bus carcasses
             reared up their mangled heads
and started to howl.

At every death site     every intersection
across the city             metal jagged    
scorched black glass

splinters for eyes limbs scattered low    
and high between the seats under unimagined            
ache of ancient beasts.

One curled around a stilled body held it    
close like the baby who just finished            
crying there

the holding the touching the tender
place of nestled after all the while                 
the bloody buses

across the city howling and in my dream        
I knelt down beside the tender one            
and asked it

to make room for me too.

After Five Years of Writing Buffalo Poems

I wondered what had happened to the Buffalo.

One day she was gone disappeared        
from the page

There had been a moment of         beckoned listening
on a charred hillsidewhere I found her no she                                
found me though she never made a sound only                
my heart heard her stillness in the wadi and the heavy                

haze crackled with the slight hum of her curved back its        
furred arch pushing upward against the unforgiving        
sky pregnant threats in the air it was rounded                
like a woman's lovely belly as though a baby could push        

out of her back into the day a different day unmaimed un                        
named by fire or fear: athena in full armour glorious                
out of Zeus' aching forehead the woman ready for war why                        
do I long for her virgin goddess could she protect                

my children athena adina guard my sister's health her shield                        
glows in the midday middle-east sunblinds soldiers freedom                
fighter terrorists generals slowly she raises her arms have you seen                
the leafless oak tree at incline its branches luminous and filled        

with hope in the wadi the buffalo imagined baby dark beast                        
trudged off I didn't even notice until she was gone and I                        
kept calling as though in her name there was a moment but                        
not mine to keep now I write buffalo poems                

in her absence