Offcourse Literary Journal

Orphea's Poems, by Hava Pinhas-Cohen.
Translated from the Hebrew by Riva Rubin.


In the corridor, I saw a woman put white silk
on her man's head, covering his face and throat.
She folded back the white
and set a black rope crown around it
to expose his face (the bitter taste
of the ointment still on his wrinkles,
his moustache unkempt). I'd thought the groom
veiled the bride and bared her face to his kiss.
She gave him his cane and he placed it
between his feet, steadying it with his hand,
she gave him a string of amber prayer beads
and he wound it around his palm and stood
and strode like a king behind his slave




Struggling all night with that man
(where were you)
(where was I)
struggling all night with that man
he grasps me by the shoulders
and I tug at his hips
and kick him between the legs
he arches my throat
and we move against each other
and raise dust like the ritual
thrashing of willow twigs -
our thighs battered (my pale thighs
in the moonlight - dark)
grappling like those kneeless cherubs

Where were you all that night
you swore to save me from all evil
and it had no known name and I had no
river to cross and see. And see.


I purified myself
and put on my bridal gown
my hair I pulled under the kerchief
and I turned like this and like this
and saw nobody who wanted my soul or
the underside of my arms

I started from the beginning.
Went south to the edge
between land and sea, to Ashdod
and a broom-studded virgin dune
and mixed its dust with fresh water
I brought in my pockets
and added my children's milk
when my breasts filled.

I squatted and strained
and wrung my hands
and curved my arms
and kneaded the dust on my belly
and twice over on my thigh.
And limb by limb I whispered
my mothers', grandmothers'
and daughters' daughters'
beautiful names, adding versions:
Sterina, Bouca, Allegria, Regina
Rebecca, Sarika, Rachelika, Sofka,
Fika, Milka - a mother for each
and every limb and organ.

I squatted like a birthing mother
gazed into the glinting sky
until the figure of a nameless daughter
stood before me and I kneeled
and kissed her thin lips
and ripped my bridal gown and dressed
her innocent nakedness.

Since that day my sheets fill with sand
and my golden daughter with breasts
creates shapes inside me and pleads:
'Oh ah ay ee oh ah aah
Madre mia mia querida
Dis mi Dis un poco di agua
Que di sidar y no di hembri
El dio ya vio dar la alma'.*

* Ladino:
Mother mine, my dear one
give me give me a little water
for from thirst not from hunger
will I return my soul to God.


Poet, editor, and lecturer in Literature and Art, Hava Pinchas-Cohen received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Hebrew Literature and Art History in 1979 from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem .She is currently writing a thesis on the connection between Classic Jewish Midrash and Modern Hebrew Literature.

Her published poetry:

Messiah, HaKibbutz Hameuchad (Ritmus Series), 2002. Winner of the Alternan Poetry Award.
Poems of Orphea, HaKibbutz Hameuchad, 2001. Winner of the Prime Minister's Award. (1998 Winner of the Kugel prize for Literature, Municipality of Hulon).
River and Forgetfulness, HaKibbutz Hameuchad (Ritmus Series), 1998. Winner of the Akum Book of the Year Award.
Journey of the Doe, HaKibbutz Hameuchad (Ritmus Series) , 1995.
Mostly Color, Tel Aviv: Am Oved,1989. Winner of the Yeruchan Luria Award.

Hava Pinchas-Cohen's style incorporates all layers of the Hebrew language, and inter-textual relations with classic and modern Jewish sources. The subjects of her writing include the relationship between man and creator, questions on the essence of faith, the presence of death within life, and the intimate journey into the feminine psyche.

Pinchas-Cohen is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Dimui: A Journal of Literature, the Arts, and Jewish Culture, since 1989. The inter-disciplinary journal explores Jewish Culture and the tie between the Jewish and Israeli world. It is interested in the inner dialogues of the Jewish world and its reflection in local literature, poetry, and the arts.

The translator, Riva Rubin, is a poet, teacher, editor and translator, born in South Africa, who has lived in Israel since 1963. She writes in English. She has won, among other awards, The President of Israel Prize for Literature in 1999.


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