June 06

The Water Queen
of Jerusalem

Rahel Chalfi

The Water Queen of Jerusalem
dives into history
history is hard and she grows fins
she has no air and she schemes
gills rowing through memory
the Water Queen of Jerusalem owns
a bathing suit made of Yiddish
the Water Queen of Jerusalem wallows on a stone beach in Ladino
fearing the rise of water level in Arabic
the Water Queen of Jerusalem has no
sea in Jerusalem
she has a history
and she holds
holds holds her head
above water


Image: Adam Lavitt


Rahel Chalfi was born in 1945 in Tel Aviv. She studied at Hebrew University, and in the U.S. at the American Film Institute. She worked for Israeli radio and television as writer-director-producer, and has taught film at Tel Aviv University. She published seven volumes of poetry, and her work has been translated into English, German, Spanish and Yiddish. An early feminist, her poems often depict Woman as a mythical, larger-than-life being, but always with a self-deprecating tongue in her cheek. Chalfi lives in Tel Aviv.

This poem is the second in a new feature in Zeek: a series of translations of lesser-known Israeli poets by novelist and translator Tsipi Keller, from her forthcoming volume, Contemporary Hebrew Poetry (SUNY Press 2007). Each poem is accompanied by a biographical profile of the poet.