Two Poems From Tablet Fragments

May 14, 2020

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.

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Two Poems from Tablet Fragments

 

 

PLAGUE OF THE FIRST BORN

 

Ten plagues trailed me 

out of Egypt, into adulthood

through stubborn history, my mother, exegeses

remembered poorly. Wherever I wandered, 

like a hungry animal, these stories

dogged me. 

 

Miracles followed. Once a year, we sat together, 

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. 

 

 

 

 

PERENNIAL

 

For thirty-one years, my mother tried not to miss her. Every week, 

a little water or the trickle of a few ice cubes 

dropped 

 

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 

pink florets. 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

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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 Tablet Fragments.


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