Great Hawk: Presence, Presence This by Becca Tarnas

Becca Tarnas ’10 is an artist, writer, and doctoral student at the California Institute of Integral Studies in the Ecology, Spirituality, and Religion program in San Francisco. She uses art and storytelling as a means to reconnect with our planet Earth in this critical time of ecological crisis. Becca attended the San Francisco Waldorf School for 13 years before pursuing Environmental Studies and Theater Arts at Mount Holyoke. She also holds a master’s degree from CIIS in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness. Becca has been published in Archai: the Journal of Archetypal Cosmology, where she is currently an assistant editor. A collection of her essays, poetry, paintings, and photographs is available on her website, beccatarnas.wordpress.com.

Emotion held, a breath caught, dark feathered wing-tips,

All rush, all bustle, all anxiety—all suspended.

There is but you and me caught in the inhale of this moment.

Or are you me? Is this suspension nothing more than a pause

A breakdown of the barrier that lies between what I understand,

Between what I understand makes you be you

And makes me

Be?

Dark wings soar, cutting hawk shape from textured sky,

Yet when you appear that sky is no more: merely backdrop.

Gripped between razor claws, your prey—my attention—is caught,

Passing mere feet from this barrier I call skin

You land, you presence, you settle, you ignore, you own,

You own my focus, draw me in, alluring

Me to drop all my life in this moment

Simply

To watch.

Heart beat, heart beat, wing beat, breath,

Heart beat, wing beat, heart beat, breath.

The branch moves, the outside world closing out—

Am I within your envelope of tearing want

Or has that gateway closed?

You shred, you rip, what lies within your grasp,

Talons, razor beak, dark feathers etched with

Beauty, etched with

Death.

Two cries rupture this world into which I gaze alone,

Yet not alone, no more:

Ravens twain disrupt your reign

A pair, a couple, a bonded force, cry out

No!—Do not enter our sacred nest, for which we give our lives

Do not, be not, crisis cries—away, please God

What have you

Done?

Who do you hold between your claws?

How did it come to this? My heart

It beats with desperate want,

Presence, presence this—this moment, this hour,

These days are lost, all brought to focus now

Great hawk, whose heart do you devour

Please tell me, how did it come to

This?

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Poetry by Barbara Goldberg

Barbara Goldberg graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College. She went on for an MA from Yeshiva University, MEd from Columbia University; and an MFA from American University. She has authored four prize-winning books of poetry, including The Royal Baker’s Daughter, recipient of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize. Her most recent book is Scorched by the Sun: Poems by Moshe Dor. Goldberg translated the renowned Israeli poet’s work from the Hebrew. Goldberg and Dor translated and edited three anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace. The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as awards in fiction and speechwriting, Goldberg’s work appears widely, including American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry and the Paris Review. Currently she is Visiting Writer at American University’s MFA program.

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Poems Translated by Barbara Goldberg

Barbara Goldberg is a poet and also a translator of poetry. Her most recent work in the latter field is Scorched by the Sun, a book of poetry by the Israeli poet Moshe Dor that she translated from Hebrew into English. Goldberg and Dor have translated and edited three anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace. She was graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Philosophy from Mount Holyoke College. She went on for an MA from Yeshiva University, MEd from Columbia University; and an MFA from American University. She has authored four prize-winning books of poetry, including The Royal Baker’s Daughter, recipient of the Felix Pollak Poetry Prize. The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as awards in fiction and speechwriting, Goldberg’s work appears widely, including American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry and the Paris Review. Currently she is Visiting Writer at American University’s MFA program. The following poems are translations from Scorched by the Sun.

Smells

Spring hasn’t arrived, but in my dream my nostrils fill
with your smell, lost motherland, the smell of eucalypti
on the banks of the Yarkon on a sunny day,

the smell of oil from gas stations along the coastal plain,
falafel browning in frying pans, pine resin wafting
down from the hills, wine foaming in the presses…

I inhale avidly, my eyes smarting. Capricious fate
has overturned all maps. I awake befuddled,
not knowing where I am, groping for a warm

body to define the boundaries of my life. Spring
hasn’t arrived, but in my dream my nostrils fill
with your smell, and all seasons bloom in my heart.

Linguistics

And he beat down the city and sowed it with salt.
Judges, ch. 9, v. 45

Mine eyes have been enlightened because I tasted a little
of this honey.”
Samuel I, ch. 14, v. 29

Hebrew and Arabic are blood relatives –
perhaps even cousins. Salt in Hebrew
is melakh, in Arabic, milkh. Honey
in Hebrew is dvash, in Arabic, dibsh.
Whether salt or honey will prevail has nothing
to do with linguistics. The dark heart
shall decide: either the salty desolation
wreaked by Abimelech, or Jonathan’s honeycomb.

Siege

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down for man is the tree of the field.
Deuteronomy, 20, 19

It’s not true that the hand of he who cuts down
an olive tree trembles when lifting the ax.

Let’s dispense with symbols. This
is not literature. This is life diminishing
with every thud of an ax, every screech
of a chainsaw, but it does not cry out
because it doesn’t have a voice.

Every day faces blush anew, not
from shame, but from blood spilling
on both sides of the invisible border,
staining olive leaves and the flesh
of man because he is
the tree of the field.

And if among the trampled branches a bird
drops dead in the night, it is not
from flying over the land in search
of an olive leaf, but from West Nile
fever, known for killing humans as well.

There Are Just Wars

and there are wrong wars
but every war is
anguish and untimely death
and cripples and smitten souls.

There are wars that break out
in daylight and wars that begin
at night but every war
is darkness even on sunny days

and even when flares
turn night into day.

Spring has also arrived here
and walking along our street
I heard the song birds and asked,
“Birds, why are you singing, don’t
you know it’s war?” but they didn’t
heed me and kept on singing.

Fingers

When you entwine your fingers
in my fingers our strength doesn’t multiply
or grow three fold, it doesn’t become stronger
at all, as fables would have us believe.
Nothing happens except warmth flowing
from naked fingers to naked fingers.

And yet
when you entwine your fingers in mine
I know it was worthwhile to take
my old knapsack, pack it with the motherland’s image
and other basic necessities and set forth, middle-aged
and scarred by my past, towards a confused dawn,
with no guarantees, from an airport with signs
reading, “Beware: freshly waxed floor.”

By the Rivers of Babylon

I want to clasp you to my heart
but my arm doesn’t move.

I want to tell you words of love
but my lips don’t move.

The love in me
has let my right hand forget
its cunning and my tongue cleave
to the roof of my mouth.

What shall I do?

I’ll hold you with my left arm
and keep silent until
you hear me.


Divisions

This morning the train crossed the Continental Divide.
From here on the division is clear: On this side all rivers
flow eastward, on the other, westward. Over the long
years of our love we have been rushing in our own
direction, you westward, I eastward, twisting and
turning to pour ourselves into each other. Still, in dreams
and poems that stream from that source we merge
into one steadfast river, its mighty waters coursing
through a persistent channel until emptying into the last sea.