Tamar Rubin grew up immersed in Hebrew, Jewish traditions and texts, in a secular household, the daughter of an immigrant mother. In becoming a physician, she learned yet another language: medicine. All of this history comes together in Rubin’s first published collection, Tablet Fragments(Signature Editions).
Weaving between the texts of all her learning, Rubin employs her many languages to explore her composite identities as outsider and insider; as doctor and her own body; as daughter, lover, mother and poet. At the heart of Tablet Fragments is the impossibility of putting back together that which is broken, and the human need to try.
all of us returned from Exodus. At Passover, we shared
a meal, swore it would be the last, then served up more
grievances, each convinced she’d been a slave.
Our discord released another Nile
between us. We read curses to each other
solemnly, drowned out compassion
with ritual. We followed protocol, removing wine,
reducing pleasure, the sound of forks on glass
like tiny hailstones.
Our dinner plates became battlegrounds,
ten red blemishes splattered round
the edges. Darkness settled, the adult first-
born children, full of bitter
herbs, still waited for the youngest
to ask four questions. We repeated
stories, bled together sweet
wine, afflictions I can’t remember.
We sang, Maybe next year,
in Jerusalem –
my voice a version of my mother’s, irritating
the same old blisters, while, around the table,
new ones formed.
For thirty-one years, my mother tried not to miss her. Every week,
a little water or the trickle of a few ice cubes
in black earth. Years back, in the muck of Toronto, April,
my grandmother visited from Israel, left
a Christmas cactus
the vast beach of my mother’s Mediterranean
mother – oranges, mangoes, brown skin, hot
tempers, a bowl of warm milk for stray cats –
all packed inside this
tiny hammered copper vessel. For fifteen years after
my grandmother’s death, this house plant
kept moulting, blooming. Blooming, moulting, against the grain of North
American weather. Sometimes I caught my mother, comfortable
inside unfamiliar Canada, cheek pressed up against perennial
creeping stems, channelling her mother’s nature, enduring as intermittent
My mother noted its growing, shrivelling. She would pick
dead leaves, sometimes forget
water. It survived,
the care it was given. This plant. For thirty-one years, my mother
kept showing me.
* * *
Tamar Rubin is a Winnipeg physician, writer and mother. She has published her work in both literary and medical journals, including Vallum, Prairie Fire, CV2, The New Quarterly, Journal of the American Medical Association, The Hippocrates Medical Poetry Anthology and others. Her unpublished chapbook “Tablet Fragments,” was shortlisted in Vallum’s 2017 chapbook contest, and her poems were long listed in Room’s 2017 Poetry Contest and CV2’s 2018 Young Buck Contest.
A special thank you to Signature Editions and to Tamar Rubin for sharing these pieces from her collection
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