Rachel Neve-Midbar’s “White Flesh, Yellow Dust” and “Memorial”

White Flesh, Yellow Dust


A desert winter, next to water, hearing nothing
but the river and the muttered morse-code

of birds through leaves, a language
that swirls in my ear, like water.

Come summer, under a relentless sun

this wadi will crack open its thistled
silence as if silence

was all it could ever have known. Now,
in winter, the green dimples in wild

chamomile, white daisies
flooded with the fragrance of apples, only

not apples—something earthier,
baser, and bitter-smooth on my tongue. Monks

who for centuries knelt here, planted bed
after bed of chamomile, resting rough,

home-spun knees against grass
stained with the breath of vespers,

relaxing back on the scent said to expand
their prayers up and open

until they fill this blue arc
of sky.     Now there is just stillness,

a silence not quiet, but alive
inside the muted grace of winter light. I

stoop in a chamomile cluster, taste one
flower, then another. They rest, white flesh

and yellow dust in my palm, dust
on my tongue,   dust.

I haven’t heard a human voice for days,

have only gazed into the unlocked jaws
of caves that sweat the moisture of centuries,

and still cling to last night’s rain. And what holds
me? Once it was my mother’s body, me deep

inside, covered and smooth within secret waters
of my own. Once I arrived as fresh

as this spawned odor of decomposing leaves, algae,
tadpoles and mud. And now? Now

there is this just this desert with its branches
of aquifers that flower and feed

this river, this winter, this green, a green
so clear, so quiet I can hear it grow

and with each exhale feel the essence of what
might still be possible—a blessing,

an earth soft with new growth, so yellow, so blue,
so complicated into molecules, the air tastes of it.


First Published in The Missing Slate.





I watch you call the names of your dead,
……….each forms deep in your throat, falls from your mouth
like chess pieces or toy soldiers, even the children
……….posed with stones or guns—everyone ready for battle.
The names tumble to the lectern, perch there
……….despite the hard currents of your sorrow,
your tears, my tears, splintered
……….and spilling from tabletop to floor. Yes
name your dead, each who fell in grace   or not,
……….in innocence   or not.       And I will name mine.
When I name names, am I counting doves or darkness?
……….Our lists swell, the dead crowding in, anger
plain on their faces, even as we clean their bodies, prepare
……….the earth, all of us greedy for some further fury,
to claw at borders, dispatch these names into the void,
……….blame clutched in their talons, the language of this conflict
so easy in our mouths, so easy—
……….What lies on the other side
of the mirror if we choose to walk through
……….to a place where the sounds of the wounded
are lost in the whispered sand
……….and we can only hear water, a river,
or perhaps just the clank of dishes in the sink,
……….the soft sound of water washing away
the last of a good meal shared together?
……….Lay with me back to back. Don’t you see
we are two sides of the same hair?
……….Please, we can do this together.
You hold the amulet while I
……….carry you across the divide.


From “White Flesh, Yellow Dust” and “Memorial,” reprinted from Salaam for Birds (Tebot Bach Press 2019) by permission of Tebot Bach Press. First published in Room Magazine.


Poet’s Note on “Memorial”

During a terrorist incident in June 2015, a church shooting at The African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, nine people were gunned down in the middle of Bible study. Only a day or two later, we MFA writers arrived on the campus of Pacific University in Oregon for our ten-day residency. No one talked about the shooting, but it was clear to me that everyone was thinking about it. For me, coming from Israel, where not only is every attack announced but the music on the radio is changed to mournful music and the names of the dead are said out loud over and over, I couldn’t understand why everyone was holding back. It was obviously on everyone’s mind.

In the middle of the residency, the poet Tyehimba Jess came to visit, and before his lecture about his magical syncopated sonnets, asked for a moment of silence and read out the names of the dead from the Charleston attack, slowly, one after the other. He allowed their presence into the room and for each of us to personally mourn them. I realized how important it is to name our dead, to openly mourn them and to allow others to do so as well. “We are so good at this in Israel,” I told myself. The Palestinians are too. The question I found myself asking every day of my life in Israel is how can we see each other’s humanity, our mutuality, the beautiful synergies possible between our cultures? The question became a poem, a poem that is still a question and maybe a call.


Rachel Neve-Midbar’s collection, Salaam of Birds, won the 2018 Patricia Bibby First Book Award and will be published by Tebot Bach in December 2019. She is also the author of the chapbook, What the Light Reveals (Tebot Bach 2014). Rachel’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Prairie Schooner, and Georgia Review, as well as other publications and anthologies. She was recently a winner of the Passenger Poetry Prize, a finalist for the COR Richard Peterson Prize, and was nominated for The Pushcart Prize. With an MFA from Pacific University (2015), Rachel is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Learn more here.



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