Now at the Thresh­old: The Late Poems of Tuvia Ruebner

Tuvia Rueb­n­er, Rachel Tzvia Black (trans.)

  • Review
By – February 15, 2021

Read­ers who love poet­ry, but whose knowl­edge of mod­ern Hebrew is slight or nonex­is­tent, will delight in this thought­ful­ly arranged bilin­gual col­lec­tion of writ­ing by beloved Israeli poet, Tuvia Rueb­n­er. Now at the Thresh­old is com­posed of poems writ­ten in the last 5 years of Ruebner’s life, between the ages of nine­ty and nine­ty-five, pulling from three col­lec­tions. The result is a med­i­ta­tive, live­ly, hon­est, and emo­tion­al­ly reward­ing for­ay into an impor­tant poet’s final work.

Ruebner’s lyri­cal voice, as ren­dered by trans­la­tor Rachel Tzvia Black (her­self a poet), is direct, inti­mate, and at once bold and hum­ble. Through­out the col­lec­tion, the poet mesh­es bib­li­cal sto­ries and allu­sions with con­tem­po­rary con­cerns, seam­less­ly inter­twin­ing the per­son­al and polit­i­cal. The lan­guage feels fresh and easy, although the poet tells us in the last sec­tion of In the Land of the Deer,” that this appar­ent ease is an illusion:

Writ­ing a poem today

Like clutch­ing a straw

to not drown.

The strug­gle to write is also depict­ed humor­ous­ly, as in Writ­ing Poems,” where Rueb­n­er wry­ly demon­strates his process, lament­ing that fail­ure is some­times inevitable.

This humil­i­ty pow­ers the more polit­i­cal poems with a height­ened emo­tion­al urgency and empa­thy. They start­ed it. They start­ed it.” begins the poem titled Gaza Night­mare,” before wind­ing past images of flow­ers and ash­es, a suf­fer­ing elder­ly woman, and a dead don­key, end­ing with a haunt­ing descrip­tion of a lit­tle girl skip­ping. The lines of Lampe­dusa: Ter­ra fer­mé” are just as point­ed, sar­don­ical­ly con­trast­ing the drowned bod­ies of Eritre­an refugee fam­i­lies with the stone-heart­ed” tourists who refuse to see what is hap­pen­ing before their eyes.

But there is also ample room for love in this selec­tion: love for the poet’s lost Slo­va­kian fam­i­ly and son, and love for an aged, beau­ti­ful wife – whom the poem, Wrin­kles,” pays trib­ute to.

Per­haps most remark­ably, giv­en the direct­ness of Ruebner’s voice, is the endur­ing pres­ence of hope. In every poem, there lurks the promise of redemption:

The fore­cast­ers have promised rain tomorrow

we’ll be able to breathe clean air.

In his final poems, Rueb­n­er repeat­ed­ly returns to the pow­er of art itself, enabling us to re-envi­sion the world in the direc­tion of mer­cy and peace. Such a redi­rec­tion, Rueb­n­er hints, is not an act of see­ing that is blind to the past. Rather, the poet invites us to seek the ideals lying in the depths of per­son­al and col­lec­tive mem­o­ry, which, like the city of Atlantis, are buried but not con­cealed at the bot­tom of a clear ocean.

Discussion Questions