Selected poems from

The Ark Upon the Number

Translated by Ammiel Alcalay

and he made a cooling breeze
to blow on the flames of the hearth;

-Daniel 3:50


The store in Havana is dust,
the white Irish fabric ground to dust,
and my father, a rumpled-up Jew,
comes back day after day with a loaf of rye under his arm.
He comes back day after day, always the same,
his eyes slanted from the twill pinstripes,
unlike a skipper darting his eyes,
coming home, he seems a light and jagged crater.
Father comes and we eat staring at the moulding around the ceiling.
I never saw water, I don't see a fish or plant.
My mother polishes the edges of the furniture again, she changes
the Thursday sheets,
we didn't see a flower in any of the bedrooms.
All the stores in Havana have been shut,
the workers have zealously taken to the streets,
and my father, a rumpled-up Jew,
bears the Ark of the Law again on leaving Cuba.


Grandfather hides the tasteless afikoman between the linen napkins.
Grandfather opens the incorrigible pages of the Talmud.
Grandfather reads the Bible clutching the succession of events.
This family congregates extended by the magnet of prohibitions.
Grandfather snaps here Israel, here cruel Judah.
Grandfather issues the bitter egg justifying our destitution.
Grandfather is designated for expulsion by the numbers
of his forearm.
Grandfather savors the incorruptible sentences of the desert.


So I return to the invisible call of verse,
signed by guile, blood, vexation, impertinent
I affirm, I bow down,
and like an ox tempered by obligation
I see there were three women who wanted to scatter my lines,
abomination, depositions, assassination in my own house,
but like an ox anointed I continue regurgitating,
contriving other regions, I rise over the tribe of Levi,
against the solemn dominance of kings, women, and nations.
I reload the word, incite devotion and apostasy,
I do not fall to my knees, I alone contaminate myself
trying to duplicate and repeat the blurred interjection
of this impenitent poem.
I am the poet, in death's last clutch,
I am a people of sad rumbas
I am Joseph, Benjamin of the incidents,
Judith with the giant's gruesome head held in her fine long fingers.

Selected poems from Prójimos/Intimates

Translated by Ammiel Alcalay


The black dog in the rain, muddies itself.

Leave me amidst sleep in the middle of time at the point
of taking a mouthful to the mouth the same
dog marrow the same wasteland weed.

Turn around, it starts raining on the black woolen dog (King)
I'm your fool (transform us) give the signal
(your attribute): I'm a kid, on the dog with
great nipples scraped raw that drags its food
coming to the King's table bring us to the
head of his table a second offering under
the table for the king's Dog the pits of
his olives and as for me twice I was seated
by his side grape fish bread fish, how many
are we? We kissed the bread of his first
grinding, blossom of his plane's meal, of
a carpenter.

Safe and sound, we -really, mother?: the dog bellows his
bones under the table sniffing the sandals of
recently washed feet, lustral waters: And me,
what about me? Our white discharges are
the host the drunken dog chews, under
the table.

So many turns my mother made since her two beginnings that she
died: me, now.

Son of the Bitch immortal bearer of the King, we are twelve
as his table: See? a king's dish death (they,
too): I am coming from my mother right up to
the black circle of the dog in the rain
eating the animal (me) its weed.


A bird (driven snow).

The crescent above, night: below, an iris arc.

A bird (omen) (arbitrary) in the open.

Whiteness, a solitary immobile fragment (anthracite) its shadow.

A shadow, spiral.

An ibis crosses (traverses) the ellipse from the right to left:
bittern the mire-drum booming caws (nocturnal heron)
the birds far off: hieratic creatures lined along the
rain-gutter at the house of the Departing:
listen, his panting blue glaze.

Snow? Which land is this what white quarries the terrestrial
accidents? Stone cutting? His fever, a coral reef:
overhead, the archangel of polychromatic wings
(below) the mantle of night wavers in his

Snow: four borders in unison, the birds: abundance, blackness
in the seed-beds.

Day breaks, white: toppled blue doves (bounce) off his eyes,
the eyes of the Recumbent, a bird stirs
(white ferns the trace of an orchid alabaster
in the snow): rising in flight (getting bigger)
its altitude its shadow iridescent against
the night arc (sweeping) the ground under.

Underground, the black caw in death's capillaries the
bittern (the bitterns) at the shade of the
Archangel: (ibis) an ibis the bird that grazes
the Recumbent's pupil (hands tremble) a
death rattle the dazzled likeness.

José Kozer

(Havana, Cuba, 1940) He has lived in New York since 1960. Kozer's work has appeared in numerous literary magazines in Latin America, Spain and the United States. His poetry has been translated into English, Portuguese, Greek, and Italian. He is the author of Este judío de números y letras , La garza sin sombras , Carece de causa , et mutabile , The Ark Upon the Number and Prójimos/Intimates .