Moorpark Press, Oakland, CA
August 2014 

Rose Black

Rose Black lives by the Union Pacific Railroad tracks in Oakland, California, where she and her husband operate Renaissance Stone, a studio and supply source for stone sculptors. Some of the places Rose's poetry has appeared are Runes, The South Carolina Review, Wisconsin Review, Hampton-Sydney Poetry Review, Ninth Letter, Spillway and Slant.  Her book, Clearing, was published in 2005 and reviewed in the Great American Pin-Up in May 2005. Her second book, Winter Light, was published in April, 2008. Both CLEARING and WINTER LIGHT were accepted by Yale's Beinecke Library for the Yale Collection of American Literature. Rose's third book of poetry, Green Field, was published in 2013 by Bark for Me Publications.

About Green Field: Rose Black's superb new collection of poems, Green Field, is a sobering volume of recollections, reflections and meditations upon a life's ravaged hopes, the echoes of a personal past, and the raw realities of our present. Like fables and dreams gone dark in the lens, these poems instruct us in the complex measures we need to employ in determining what values still remain--and endure--in our lives.  --David St. John




                        because we dared each other to climb
                        higher and higher
                        because the branches became less certain
                        less likely to hold

                        because the leaves tossed
swirled around us
wild and green
and because those great heights
made us heady

we stepped into sky
not at all clear
where we were going
or why


On the fourth of July, you cover my eyes with your hand.
What's this?
you ask, as you slide a piece of wet green pepper

into my mouth. I begin to nibble. Stop! you are screaming.
Down the stairs, into the courtyard. You are a tiny speck

on the other side of a canyon. Between us, showers of shooting
sparks, flaming tails, red and orange fire.
Stop! Stop!

But the people in the courtyard don't see or hear you. I run
down, try to grab the shell of you without you. Between us,

somewhere I can't go. The rockets boom. People laugh.
Their children laugh. Later, they will join the big parade, the big

celebration. Later, in your bedroom, you yank curtains closed.
I put you to bed, pull the covers up, watch you curl

toward the wall. The room is gray and begins to shiver.
I wish I could say I kept trying to touch you, reach you, that

I kept trying. Because, Go away, you said, it was the last time
I ever saw you. Every fourth of July I don't, no, can't,

go back to where you went. But I go back to you, and us.
Salad of endive, tomato, green pepper; you so close,

then gone; small white box on the table, a surprise.
Stop! Please stop!
who left, what happened.


            You must be willing to lose

            the first fifty games,
you say.

You are Jo zu, the higher hand,
rank of seventh degree,
yet you choose me. My handicap:
nine black stones. I place them,
symmetrically, on the pale ash board,
on the
hoshi, the star-points.

That day, we hunted for Go stones
on the hot, sand shore. Small, round,
white or black. Perfect. You found
the first stone, and touched my lips.

It is a game played to the death, you explain.

You bow. Then, cross legged
in your samurai
hakama, you suspend
between two fingers stones of smooth
white, loud-click them on the board,
thwack, force battle, thwart.

I am ready. I mirror your posture.
My shiny jet-black warriors click,
rally, fight. Fortify themselves
in impregnable positions.

We do not speak, except,
the warning, softly,
before each capture.

Our eyes are always on the board.
One by one, we lay our stones down.
Broken sword, flying snow.


inside the stone
is a stone yard

where my lover carves black
granite mountains

I carve the low tide
and new moon

in the mud we find milk
and green pennies

in the tar of the roof
wild radish, white stars

in the wind-stripped soil
visible roots

in the garden bare shadows
brown lizards

inside the stone yard
inside the stone


We must raise the stones
from the dead.

We place the stones
upright. They attach

earth to sky. They attach
all that is human
to all that is not,
half human, half not.

We arrange the stones.
Many stones, one.
No stone like another,
yet all belong.

Torn from the earth,
they are scarred,
yet whole.

They receive the farthest
reaches of sky and beyond.
Everything here,
inside them.

The stones stand
guard. Their purpose
fixed. They carry
ancestors. They summon
all that is lost. The lost

We stand in the center.
From the breath of stones
we make a cosmos.

                Not Unlikely

                We keep many things locked up here.
                One gate, heavy wood, almost impossible to open.

                Another, chain link, topped with three strands of barbed wire,
                opens and closes at our command.

                It's not unlikely we meet Sam. After all, we sell stone for carving,
                and Sam is a sculptor from Nome.

                Unlikely, though, that we let anyone in after hours.
                But Sam, he easily laughs and glides his way through all our locks and fences.

                There's Sam, I say to my husband, when the bell on our gate rings
                 just after we close. We never hesitate to let Sam in.

                After all, my husband says, he is our only customer.
                No, I say, it's because we love him. And he is our
best only customer.

                Soapstone and alabaster. Sam carves black and white orcas, and salmon, translucent orange
                with green faces. Green or white bears, claws out of ivory walrus tusks, or black baleen.

                It's not unlikely that someone like Sam would find us and pass through our gate.
                Not unlikely we'd learn that walrus tastes like chicken, whale-meat like salty black olives.

Silver Spring

When the rains come in early spring, water seeps up through the basement floor, murky and foul. It creeps into corners, flows under the washing machine, under the old gas stove, across the mud sill into the plant room, and under the crooked door that leads outside.

The old woman hobbles down to the basement with a long-handled mop. She mops the floor, wrings the water into buckets, then pours it all down the cast iron sink.

She cannot keep up. Soon the water is to her ankles. Outside, the water swells into little rivers. At its lowest point, the yard itself begins to fill, and a pond appears, then slowly spreads across the grass.

Underneath it all, the silver spring, for which her neighborhood is named, will continue to wind its way under everyone's floors and basements, rising and falling like the breath of the earth and its oceans.

Her neighbors try to divert the unwanted water this way and that, away from themselves. The old woman rests her mop against the wall, opens her arms, says, Come.


An Arctic sea. Far away mountains, jagged and peaked.

A low sun just beginning. Maybe it is ending. Thin, pale.

In the distance, there might be an island.

Close up, on the shore, huge chunks of ice.

Around them the hardest of rocks granite, feldspar,

quartz. Shades of white and gray.

The sun is just rising, or it is just setting. It could be the end

of night. Or the beginning. Deep between mountains

crevasses, ravines. In the distance, there could be an island.

I don't want to tell you my reasons for this choice. Why I didn't

choose the field of daffodils, bright yellow, their smooth

leaves and stems. All facing toward light.

In the distance, a finger of black. It's either land or where

the ice is melting. I don't want to think about ice melting,

or notice how the spur of black has a certain shine and thickness.

I don't want to smell the sweet oily stench of what lies under ground,

and I don't want to think about those who will come here.

I move through this landscape by dogsled, by boat.

In places like this, ice breaks up, ice melts. The seasons will

change. A fresh blanket of ice will grow over the land, over the sea

again, and again. Though, maybe not.

From Rose Black's work:


Morning moon still in the sky,

Champ and I round the corner of Neptune Drive

and make our way toward Oyster Bay,

its oysters long gone. We weave past chunks of cement,

rusty metal and methane collection tubes poking

from cordgrass and brackish salt marshes.

We climb landfill that covers recycled trash,

and who knows what lies beneath our feet, in this place

of constant change and surprise. Perhaps

once right here a thatched hut, open to night, was built

and abandoned by an Ohlone hunter. Bright stars

shone through walls of dried grass, lattice of saplings.

For years, on unmarked trails, we have been walking

this wilderness, where people do not learn

each other’s names. We come because

our dogs need to be here, to roam.

We notice what our dogs notice—hawks, egrets,

rabbits, mice, roots of wild radish.

Soon all of this too may be covered over. Who knows what

will prevail? We learn the names and nature

of each other’s dogs, the dogs of Oyster Bay. We watch

as they run the line of earth and sky, through improbable flowers.



The day I asked, in jail for what?,

the day they answered, don=t ever mention his name in front of your cousins. Don=t ever think of him again,

the day Uncle Marty moved into my head and wouldn=t leave. He grew big there. I dressed him in a pirate=s hat, his teeth rotten, pointed, his greasy black hair touching his shoulders. I decided he stole only from the rich.

Yesterday I found Uncle Marty in the middle of a tangled forest. He was living in a hut surrounded by a thousand twisted oaks. He had a beard and now was dressed in green. He said to me:

I remember the day you made your father jump from a rocky cliff into the sea. You said, jump, jump, I dare you, dare you, do it, do it, and we all held our breath as he plunged into the water. You all lived in the mountains then. You were barefoot as you climbed and you were proud.

Stay honest, Uncle Marty said.
I will, Uncle Marty.
And promise you won
=t write about me, OK?
OK, I said, OK, Uncle Marty, I promise.


Do you know about the Rapture? How after the battle of Armageddon the righteous will be lifted out of their clothes right up into the sky? Perhaps, on their way to heaven, they’ll be undressed by snowy angels, soft angel fingers unzipping and unbuttoning, gently lifting out bare arms and legs—pants, shirts, dresses, socks, underwear of the righteous all fluttering down upon the trees and rivers, golden sand. Then, Whoosh! The naked whisked straight up to the right hand of God.

All the others, like me, will be burned on the spot.

But maybe if I beat God to it, rip off all my clothes in front of strangers, say, look, say to God, look, I don’t believe in you but look—wrinkled skin, clogged blood, brittle bone, warts and moles, say, look, this is what I’m made of, then maybe God’ll get confused, impressed, stop right in his tracks, say, what the hell is going on here, say to himself, hey, maybe I’ll spare this one, naked as a baby, who’s already halfway there.


Five Bay Area writers, Rose Black, Margaret Kaufman, Melanie Maier, Susan Terris, and Sim Warkov, all published poets, invited five additional published poets, Dan Bellm, Chana Bloch, Rafaella Del Bourgo, Jackie Kudler, and Murray Silverstein, to contribute to this collection of poems of Jewish identity.

Of their work, Rabbi Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El, San Francisco, wrote:
“Carl Sandburg provides an elegant description of lyric compositions like the ones found in Chapter and Verse: “A poem is like an echo asking a shadow to dance.” This rich volume, a pastiche of the dance steps that post-modern Jews engage in with sacred texts, modern culture, and ancient traditions, tugs at the hearts and minds of the reader, inviting them to an invigorating and entrancing ball.”

In the introduction to Chapter & Verse, Jane Miller, a well known American poet and teacher, says:
“While these poems of Jewish identity by ten Bay Area poets evoke the beautiful loam and moonlight of an old world and culture, they also are blunt in reporting the terrible."


they are sitting in the living room weeping, all of them shaking tears. I run from one to the other, touching hands, their knees. Don’t cry don’t cry  I say. They don’t look at me. They keep on crying. The room gets dark and no one turns on the lights.   

Mother and Grandpa Abe are there, and all the aunts are there. Faye, Esther, Hilda, Norma and Rhoda. The uncles, Victor and David. Lace doilies on the backs and arms of chairs.

Where is Grandma Sarah?

Something that has no business here has come into the room. Something that belongs far away from us, beyond the dining room, with table made from the box piano taken apart. Something that belongs beyond the yard, picnic table, grape arbor, horseradish tall along the fence.

Beyond the factory across the street where Grandpa presses pants, corner saloon buckets of beer. Beyond the Slotnicks, the Villasanas, the Frankels, the Einenkels and the Morris Street Shul. Beyond the empty lot with old quince trees, butterflies, wild berries.

Something that belongs far away has come inside.     



I walk the rocky cliffs above the Potomac   
early November the maples blaze orange
and red, and when I return my brother hugs
me hard and fast and that’s how I am told.
We walk into our mother’s bedroom, check
for breath and pulse. And no one tells us

what we might do next, sit with her, wash
her slowly. We haven’t asked. Our mother’s
Jewish past would have instructed us, had
we wanted to know. Our Great Uncle Joe
could have told us that our mother would
linger awhile, near her body, confused.

From the moment of death the body is not left
alone until burial. That she must be tended
and washed. A pure act, because the dead
cannot give back. But we brother and sister
half-Jews, Jews among non-Jews, non-Jews
among Jews, we have it figured out. We call

a man to take away the body. Take it away
fast as he can, reduce it to ash and fragments
of bone.  Typical weight for adult female,
four pounds.  Is this what Mother wanted? 
We scatter her from a bridge above Great
Falls, and who knows how far she will travel

in the cold fast river below. Where is she?
Mother, I want to wash you gently.
I want to wash you with warm water,
as children are washed when born.  
I want to scent the water with myrtle,
and wash you, from head to foot.

I want to pare your nails and comb
your hair, wrap your body in a white
linen shroud, put you in a simple pine
box.  Lay you in earth. Each time I visit,
I will bring you a stone, and place it
on your grave. Stone of your name.



english cafe


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