Roberta Chester is a writer and teacher living half the year in Israel and half in Maine where she manages Shorepath Cottage, a kosher B & B on the coast in Bar Harbor. She is the author of Light Years, a book of poems published by Puckerbush Press in 1983, and of numerous poems and articles that have appeared both in the US and Israel.  Several of her poems have appeared in The Deronda Review; we are privileged to reproduce these here, along with a sample from Light Years.

From The Deronda Review


Honeysuckle and jasmine float

up from the street on the breeze

to sweeten the world,

as the Sabbath queen ,

gathers her robe of soft shadows

and threads of sun,

and silently takes her leave.

Three tiny stars

glisten like sequins 

in the cobalt sky

above my balcony,

while the moon weaves between the clouds

over the distant, darkening hills

of silvery green olive groves

and the turtle doves

gurgle from the eaves...

It’s the fragile breath

of time ruffling the wings of memory,

as another world, 

intertwined by filaments of dew,

suddenly rushes in.

and effortlessly carries me away.

Now I listen  to shells murmuring

and taste the salty sea

licking my windowsill.

The bell buoy is clanging in the bay,

and I hear the chimes dancing slowly

with the wind on the porch

and your footfalls on the stair.

The lupines I scratched

into the cold, bare ground

uncurl their purple selves

and whisper to me from there

about the deep woods,

the tall spires of lacey pines,

the warm, ripe berries beside the road,

as if to tempt me from there

with another spice and wine

in that other loveliness of light and air

I once called home.



I weave my way through cedar and pine,

signs pointing to different neighborhoods

to find my mother's kever

in this city of the dead.

where small groups gather around fresh graves

reciting the Kaddish with muffled cries. 

I visit the slab of stone etched 

with the skeletal details:

daughter, wife, 

mother, grand and great grandmother. 

With a candle and pebbles and prayers

I plead to her to intercede 

 for an easy birth, to cure a sick child, 

to comfort me through

 whatever nights lie ahead.

All around I hear the hum 

from the traffic on the highway below,

the gurgle of turtledoves, 

the wind sweeping the graves.

I enter those memories

that are bound up with her

in an inextricable embrace 

till I see her face, watch her hands, 

and feel the safe circle of her arms,

and listen to the singsong words of my storybooks

in the suspense of pages turning when she read.

Suddenly the scent of jasmine from a flowering branch

Transports me to the flat on Elliott Street,

and I am clinging to her legs

smelling the perfume

in the curly fur of her black Persian lamb coat,

as she solemnly promises, 

she'll  be home soon. 

But I knew she would leave me one day,

that the door would close on her forever, 

that I would hear her heels clickety clack on the stairs,

and she would not come back.



                 Bar Harbor, Maine, October 28, 10:07 a.m.

The bright sliver

on the dark hardwood floor is a shard 

of sunlight where the screen door is slightly ajar.

It will leave no stain, nothing to wipe or clean,

and disappear.

That blade of sunlight,

the gold dust dancing

with the softest shoes in the world,

depends upon everything configured just right 

an angle of the sun  this autumn morning,

an opening in the clouds,

a particular door, the curtain on a far wall

the branch of a tree, a leaf that just fluttered on the breath

of the wind in the confetti of Fall on the lawn,

and quiet such as I have never heard.

In this spill of light, I feel the chill of time passing,

knowing I will not stop here twice,

overwhelmed by this season's sweet, sad smell.

There is no repeat in this glorious scheme of things,

and I, I will die to come this way again.

From Light Years


Toward the end it happened fast. 

I went from room to room 

picking up pieces of glass, 

splinters, shreds of yellow 

wallpaper, but when I tried 

to make it mend, the glue wouldn't hold. 

If I touched the sheets 

on the bed where we had been lying, 

they fell apart, tying my hands. 

Then the carpet was pulled out 

from under us and we were drifting 

through enormous questions, vast spaces 

and pauses, secret passages, discovering 

places we hadn't known existed behind 

the closet doors as gaps in the floor 

grew wider and the bottom fell out. 

I called it an ill wind, 

you said the stars 

were lined up against us. 

The hall to the outside 

has been a long, dark dream 

where the light is burned out, 

and I am still coming out of it, 

picking my way through falling beams, 

loose boards, live wires. 



You are beside me beside the spider. 

Pale orange, she is lovely in the orange light. 

Her legs are thin and nimble, and her abdomen 

a mound from which we watch the thread come 

as she clings, stroking the air with her spindly 

bones, to the fine rungs of her ladder home. 

    You ask me if I think she's the one you met once, 

the one who made your skin crawl, in the darkness 

beneath the porch. I suggest she might have come out 

to take the sun, to make room for moon and stars, 

the shadows of leaves in halls and corridors, but still 

I could only guess she might be the one that frightened 

you half to death. 

    Nevertheless, I know you well enough to know 

you are relieved to meet her out in the sun 

where you feel safe to look her in the face and even 

compliment her for her grace. 

    And I, too, am glad because I can see your eyes, 

see you trace the silky floors. Oh, you take me by 

surprise, the way you take me up the heights of your 

delight, and oh I know that were it not for your 

discerning eye that stops to measure the mystery 

of each small universe, and directs me to the door 

of places I'd ignored before, I would not now 

be visiting the spider's web again, wondering about 

which worlds and works are blown away, as I hear 

you coming up the stair to remind me that the sky 

is blue, the afternoon still fair, and you have 

plans to draw me out of thought and into 

your intricate design. 



Now that the river is frozen 

I can believe nothing 

is really lost --  

the last words you said to me, 

your thoughts I did not have time to read, 

the secrets I should not have told --  

the names and addresses of people I should not visit 

the gestures I should not have given away 

bits of poems that came to a dead end 

and smashed like lost birds against this window, 

the small pieces of paper that will save our lives – 

even the exact date and time when the ice quakes 

along a fault of sunlight 

and the giant slabs split like the puzzle 

pieces of continents- 

when it is time for me to wait 

for whatever comes up bobbing between the floes 

with my name on it. 



(for Erica Mumford) 

Riding away from his sturdy white house 

and his barn, where small slits in the old 

pine boards made me feel we were all that time 

being watched, I remember asking you what 

you, especially with your blond hair, 

the summer dress she wore in my old picture book, 

felt like when you walked through the screen door 

without so much as a knock, climbed the stair, 

and sat on the quilt-covered bed that might 

have been his. We listened for what we could 

pick up from the woodwork and the fields of tiny 

blue flowers on the walls wondering whether it 

was her spirit moving us when we bent to look 

at the poems, the old letters, the worn leather 

volumes under glass. 

I remember your quick laugh in the still 

August air of that quiet room where the 

curtains fluttered about the small desk 

and the mountains moved like bears between 

the window panes. 



This season is sweetness and light. 

Tomatoes and corn are piled 

on small tables beside the road, 

and someone has stopped to hold 

the vegetables and fruit, to feel 

the weight and measure the juice 

beneath the ripe skins. Beneath 

the leaves that are brighter than gold 

in the clear air, a man under the shade 

of his broad hat, calls to his wife 

for change. This season is the calm 

before the storm. Overhead the message 

is clear. The dark leaves caught 

in the wind rush like the sound of birds. 

This is the time to look away 

before the fields are falling under snow, 

and what is left goes up in smoke.



In the circle of the old women 

the faces are stone, 

cracked and lined as the rocks in the bay, 

and so it is hard to remember their names 

except for Edie -- 

so small her feet do not touch the floor 

who tells me about the stream 

she called “Precious Spring" 

where the water was clear and cold 

where she used to dip her cup – 

where her mother set the jugs 

of milk and the bowls of cream. 

Outside, a single tree 

is breathing with the wind. 

The sky is heavy with dusk 

and even the sun is setting 

quietly tonight, 

but the others do not look. 

Their eyes are full of empty rooms. 

Only their hands, lying in 

their laps like gifts 

move over familiar things. 

I could touch these 

and wake them to Edie's cup 

but it is late 

and these hands are dying 

to sleep. 



At the end of February 

When there isn't a matched pair 

In the house --  

No socks, boots, mittens 

And even the man, 

On a day that was unseasonably warm, 

Left for an idea- 

I find myself ready to elope, 

Before the plumbing freezes, 

With the first travelling salesman 

On his way south. 

The people who have 

Lived here forever, 

The ones who have 

Great grandmothers sitting 

In the trees and knitting mittens 

With needles that click in the wind, 

Say we've turned the corner 

And I would like to believe. 



This time the spies return from Saturn, 

calamitous one, Sag-Ush, the male god, 

Kaimanu, the one who moves slowly, the 

killer of cattle, Cronus, the son of 

Heaven and Earth who ate his children, 

whose remnant circles him forever, fifteen moons, chunks of ice, dust of 

dust and the ancient flotsam and jetsam --  

This time the spies return from Saturn 

and we remember the tall tales of giants 

and a land of milk and honey 

but Saturn is fire and ice, 

the extremes of matter and prophecy 

and again we are alone, 

all seas and skies and wrapped in many colors, 

the favorite child, 

the single beholding eye, 

mind and motion 

and witness to the universe. 

This time the spies return from Saturn. 

There was good reason to appease 

the planets and turn them into gods, 

for we have the birthright 

and all the blessings. 

We remember the forgery of women – 

Rebecca who covered the mild child 

with hairy hides and Rhea who gave Cronus 

the stone that would be Zeus. 

These stars are the spit of my grandmothers 

whose wet incantations saved us 

from the evil eye, 

who hid us in closets and under beds, 

who floated us in baskets down the Nile. 

This time the spies return from Saturn 

and again we see ourselves from far away 

and know we are the fairest of them all. 

From far away Africa is a swirl 

and the children and the river hyacinth 

are floating together in the yellow waters. 

This time the spies return from Saturn. 

How beautiful we are from far away -- 

If our spies will be the death of us 

How much we have to lose. 



My grandfather, 

you may have known him, 

can stop turning in his grave 

on Coney Island 

where his seven sons, 

so clever and smart, 

lowered him with a sigh 

for all his desire 

to coax them and carve them 

out of himself. 

He can stop turning 

because his sons did not daven 

three times a day 

and cover their heads 

and take wives who were wise 

in the ways of his wife -- 

and chose to cut themselves off 

behind his back 

when his eyes grew dim as Isaac's 

and he knew them only 

from the feel of their skin 

or the sound of their voices 

when they spoke to him 

in the Yiddish they usually kept 

under their tongues. 

But my grandfather 

can stop turning 

because the granddaughter 

he never knew 

tucks the strands of hair 

beneath her scarf 

and sits beside her husband 

when she dips 

her bread in salt 

and watches the cup of wine 

running over. 

This child who was not 

even named for him, 

who never stroked his beard 

as I did 

when I sat on his lap 

next to the window 

overlooking Central Park West, 

has flushed cheeks 

in the candlelight 

on the Sabbath, 

and eyes 

that burn like coals. 



I can thank the Czar 

for the dirt between my toes, 

the peas climbing the wire 

and everything that grows 

in spite of stones 

on this piece of land 

in Maine. 

He took my grandfather's land away, 

thick and heavy with trees, 

in one of those occasional 


Without his land 

my grandfather had no reason to stay 

and so he came here 

with nothing to his name 

except a woman, 

who would live till she 

was one hundred and three, 

and a small son. 

My grandfather searched the streets 

for the gold of maple leaves 

and paced the pavement 

in his hiking boots. 

I used to lace them up for him 

beneath his eyes 

dark as woods. 

My grandfather lived to thank the Czar 

for kicking us out 

of Europe's way 

and over the sea. 

My grandfather's eyes 

look out from between the trees. 

He knows how good the dirt feels 

in the palm of my hand, 

and how I shudder 

at the white paper 

in the marketplace. 


" ... language is the Divine substance of reality. " 

Walter Benjamin 


In October I pass a burning bush every day. 

It breathes with the wind and rushes 

at me with small flames. My footsteps echo 

with the others, but inside I am shouting 

as fiercely as a soul for its mate, "Give me 

your name, speak to me, so that your breath 

becomes mine!" Perhaps it is bird, and I can 

reach in through the deeper darkness of the 

leaves where the light is ribbon thin and bring 

it to my lips. Perhaps it is an angel I must 

wrestle with. Late at night when we are all 

that is left of the world, I go back alone 

to wait it out. The name is blessing and 

commandment and my life depends on it. 

Perhaps it wi11 occur to me. 



(Bangor, 1982) 

After the last blast of the shofar 

and the hard fast, the promises 

and prayers for a good year, 

it takes us by surprise 

when we are in the season 

of apples and honey cakes 

and wine, when we eat in huts 

open as birds to the stars, 

it takes us by surprise 

to see a swastika 

drawn on the wall of the shul, 

painted red and razor sharp 

the women whisper, 

there can be no mistake. 

They know the sign. 

It makes me think 

we have been found out 

although we've been here 

for years, our candles shining 

at the windows, the smell of challah, 

the bittersweet sounds of Shabbos songs 

escaping from out the windows and doors 

and into the streets between the bridge 

and the old brick church. 

It takes us by surprise 

and yet the trouble is so old 

it echoes in my blood 

with the sound of my grandfather 

climbing the stairs of a building 

on the lower east side 

and pressed against the wall 

by someone with a knife 

who held the blade 

against his neck and said, 

“Swear, swear you are not a Jew, 

and I will let you free!" 

And from my grandfather who refused 

just as they were both surprised 

by an angel in disguise who opened a door 

in that long, dark hall, 

I learned never to be too much in love 

with a roof over my head, 

that houses are made of sticks and glass, 

that they break like the works of our hands, 

and that we should be ready to fly 

up into the night with parcels and children 

and scrolls under our arms 

on the back of the wind.