Helen Bar-Lev
2011 International (Israel)
Senior Poet Laureate

Helen Bar-Lev, 69, of Metulla, was born in New York City but has lived in Israel nearly forty years. She was also International Senior Poet Laureate award winner in 2009, and has served as an International Diploemat (diplomatic ambassador of good will). Helen is secretary of Voices Israel Group of Poets in English. She and Johnmichael Simon publish the internationally acclaimed poetry journal Cyclamens and Swords which welcomes submissions by our Senior Poets Laureate contest participants. Helenís art, poetry and books are online at hbarlev@netvision.net.il Her sign is Aries


Two zinnias in a glazed vase clipped by nuns' careful scissors,
are the only decoration in this spartan room
in a convent in Jerusalem
but it is clean, the mattress comfortable
flagstone floors, yellow and red-ochre,
have been polished to a gleam by passing shoes
these one hundred years, even more.

We have returned to Jerusalem after an absence of some months --
a jittery city, it is more intolerable than ever
horns constantly honk, faces do not smile
congestion and pollution, agitation, congregate in its centre
together with beggars, street musicians, religious Jews, Arabs
an incongruent conglomeration which beckons in a manner
I cannot fathom and repulses with vengeance,
as though one reaction triggers its opposite,
a contradiction of emotions that is disturbing
considering I lived here for so long and loved it with passion,
wrote love poems in dedication, painted its landscapes from every angle
until my ability wilted and the brush could no longer respond to my commands

So that earlier today when I walked through this city in the heat of its summer
and watched dusk extinguish the gold from its stones,
I noticed a nostalgia for it--for the once-Jerusalem,
almost expecting the present to disappear behind a curtain
and lo! enter the Jerusalem of old, the city I knew
and yearned to return to, smaller, happier, more beautiful.

These are my thoughts now, late, in this sanctuary amidst the city's insanity,
this secluded quaint convent, where quail and jay and gay flowers reside,
whose energies are lovely, light, a place that does not disturb
nor disappoint my memories

While the two zinnias in the vase blink red and pink
in the heat of the night
and soothe me

Helen Bar-Lev