Two Poems From Tablet Fragments

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 BORNTen plagues trailed me out of Egypt, into adulthoodthrough stubborn history, my mother, exegesesremembered poorly. Wherever I wandered, like a hungry animal, these storiesdogged 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 roundthe 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. PERENNIALFor 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.