A descendant of the Baal Shem Tov and Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, Shira Twersky-Cassel grew up in New York in a home that combined devotion to Torah study and Jewish mysticism with openness to general studies.  She earned her B.A. in ancient languages and journalism and came to Israel as a young woman.  In 1988, two years after she had begun writing began writing poetry in Hebrew she received the Newman Prize for her book Shachrur (Blackbird).  A second book, HaChayyim HaSodiim shel HaTsipporim (The Secret Life of Birds) was published by Sifriat HaPo'alim in 1995, and  Yoman Shira BeSulam HaGeulah (A Poet's Diary), which deals with the Oslo period, was published by Bitsaron in 2005.  The poems below are translated from The Secret Life of Birds, except for "Safed -- Tammuz 5759" (A Poet's Diary) and "Shalom - The Seventh Gate," which was written originally in English and published in The Neovictorian/Cochlea.



Tabernacle-bird, tie earth and sky together,

your partitions dancing in the wind with a pride only the moon-eye knows,

moving in and out of colors we have not yet learned,

for they are still locked in the lines of the firmament.


In autumn nights the acorns converse with Jerusalem stone,

transmitting the tremor of creation into heated rooms,

into humans who hide in their beds,

in the morning every acorn will put on your shape.



Out of the bird’s pomegranate mosaic

draw for yourself

acrobatic stars like cotton wool

that have no falling in them


but a melody of silence

of dance



                        and leafing


nor can you


the swoop and sleight of your body


but infuse

            into the turbulent dispute of time and place

            given and taken

            with the amulet-phial of the bird,

the displacement of her wings


and a hint of the grammars

fastened inside her


that are hers

hers alone.



Crisscross, swallow of the mountains, softly slicing

black from the black of his transparent wings

in the twilight of Sabbath eve.


Then he plays with ensorcelled rays of sun

and brings to the city all the wounds of the rainbow,

adds shades of color to the hills of the rose


and the mountain lily, to the bougainvillea vines

and the fire-tongued shrub of Moses

            the aureole of neighborhoods near the border

            exposed to the desert like a loving, broken heart.


Above the city, from all the directions of light,

the longing of the swallow arrives with a bold, piercing

whistle of Hallel.  He does not know


song’s lyricism, but a sinew

of continuous flight.


He is learned in the gladness of the stratosphere, the joy

of a knife-like angle to land on the rooftop,


two meet for a sliver-eternity, and part.




            7 Adar 5750


We opened a skylight and sought an answer

like wafers of honey, I said,


thunder of airplanes breaking before the swallow,

wings of innocence in the hiddenness of lilies.


At the time of the giving of the Torah they tarry

on their way to the continents of cold they were chipped from,


their feet atrophy for they tried not to touch

the lines of man.  Only the elect of their hearts,

only fractions of a second, the splitting egg


that will add to them another commanded generation

links them, tenuously, to the borderlines of stones.


Their wings are bold as the end of prophecies,

a crystal chill on the brow of the lakes of my eyes.


Before you our petitions, our hands raised

            to wander again between pillars of fire and cloud,

            wrapped in the six directions


borne up by the memory of a mountain too harsh to bear,

a memory of being led, like a seal on our eyes


by the light from an innocent man’s face, from his pure qualities,

pulling at a yoke too hard to bear

that the Creator laid on him:

love for a people stubborn and pure

            as the end of prophecies.





In order that a human hand might touch me

the flock descended into the narrow alleys of Jerusalem

to the quarters of the old houses, to play in them.


There I came into lighted rooms

and was blind, stumbling against white walls,

my heart seeking a hand, time after time.


My eyes elongated like a raindrop, like a tear,

my eyes magnified by the light-crystal, longing for a hand

-- only for a moment, a loving hand.


Therefore she found me, she,

and I with trembling gave my body, my silk

and the breadth of my wings to touch, my wings

that knew the Creator and the heavens

-- and the gaze of distances.


After that she gave me the darkness of night,

and to the silence that fell on my brother-swallows, the flock

            -- for fear they would never see their sister-swallow again,

I came.


After that we returned to the heights, our eyes wondering,

to the hidden places to hover until dawn,


at break of dawn I saw her looking up

to my brothers rejoicing in the paths of G-d,

and asking

            -- is that she?

            my sister.





            For thy arrows stick fast in me, and thy hand presses me sore.

                                                            Psalm 38:3


On the threshold of sunup

the zeal of the songbirds is passed like a torch,

            arrows of song are launched from the throats of blackbirds

            arrows of gold from quivers of gold,


from neighborhood to neighborhood they are playing

the link of love of labor,

            each man clad in the ebony of silk

            each young man in the craft of his unique improvisation,


the blackbirds are raising the sparks

of the birch of the morning watch,

            praising the rumors of the sun’s coming,

            a blessing to the ears of man and woman.


Humbly this bird will sing you his heart

from behind thickets of cloud, each saying to each:

            “This is my song, comrade, I honor your song;

            these are the trees of my kingdom, I respect your courtyard.”


And sings, come to me Shulamit.


At six in the morning, a whistle,

the first team of mountains swallows has come

            into my dream, a sharp sign

            extending from me to the mists of morning.


Fled in the wind is the call

Already it is Adar, already we have returned to you.




On the ascent to Safed the bows are bent,

the grounding connection is slowly severed

            from the land of wild wheat.


Lions and eagles look up to her

and mountain jostles mountain, the great light

sets slowly in a halo of parting anguish.


In Safed at night the lions, the tranquil cats,

they sculpt movements of pleasantness

on the steps of the houses,


in the courtyards someone is saying

-- what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours,

the shadow of a woman falls on the wind.


At dawn the mountains spring up lightly

and the first string of the soul-bird

is strung, a thin cord, over the rooftops of the spirits.


The light returns to dwell in the eye of the city

and the perfume of the crystal eye ascends with the dew

from every path, every caper-bush.


The scholars wash their hands,

aspire to holiness,

give milk and kindness to the cats of the night,


touching the small soul.


In the alleyways every step reveals a glint of radiance,

the eye takes pictures of directions downward,


the soul seeking corridors

goes out on its angular journey,


and here comes the sunlight!





            The shadow is unbearably deep on Mount Meron

            The mountain chain storms up into the firmaments, like Shulamit in the arms of her king.


            Like a sea-floor sunk in thought, where there are holy animals and no number,

            A hidden blue-green squall streams and ascends in sequence, descends to the depths.


Sabbath eve in the ancient cemetery.

Amid the blue graves the bald slope weeps aridly.

Opposite, a blue sky, the blue of iron bars,

a deep shadow on Mount Meron,


At the bottom of the slope, on the square of Tsion Pinchas Ben Yair

a tree of scraps of cloth scatters glittering rainbows,

blessed not with figs but with amulets.


In climbing from the valley, from the level of figs, from the pure spring of the Ar”i,

on the upward slope of “Moshiach’s alley,” very steep and very narrow,

the brook-stones beneath our feet

were formed like jewels of opal,

polished by the groans of the spirit.


In Safed, even on the holy Sabbath the fragrance of wick and wax,

wedded, permeates our throats,

takes on the form of white letters,


at Minchah, between the blue houses, in the courtyard of the Abuhav synagogue,

twigs of a branch of the thorny shell-flower have dried to a bell-like rustle,

a sheet of papyrus carried by the wind

-- its leaves ornate prayers of the heart.


On the mountain of Safed

the flames stand in the likeness of stones, wrapped in a muted light,

the wind dresses the bones of the houses in the words of a charm.









In the shattered years,

when strident deep-mouthed howls and caterwauls

let loose from evil stratosphere,

burned and crashed shrill upon the ear,


the racket of tormentor draped in clanging cacophony

silenced cadence of the spheres, – 

                                       or at least drowned out the arpeggio of wheeled celestial things

                        that sit beside the King of Kings and serve Him.


When the Destroyer was let loose

to attempt on the lord, and on His people,

Then in timeless time,

the hinges of the Seventh Gate hung free.

Badly scorched the roots of heaven were,

but as every forester will say,

fire syncopates an invention of green that does not know Darwin.


Then came forth from earth, blackened by God's loam-lined fingers,

again the blessed covenant.




In Jerusalem

             the city where a golden key

                                                was dropped by ladder-climbing angels lifting-off from Ya'akov,



            one of His thousand names

             that our lips are permitted to form

welcomes the Jew on each Sabbath eve,


Then we leave Creation be

and do not interfere – as was in Eden,

            before we stole the fruit of ill-use,

            and drank the bitter-waters of contention,


On Shabbat, Gifts of Grace and Offering

are placed on altars of luminescent stone,

and not one tear falls to wound one blade of grass.


In the real Jerusalem, heart of wholeness,

twilight is an opal-golden key.




Now, as every student of Kaballa will tell you, if he speaks at all,

each pulsating Hebrew letter

danced-forth from the breath of the Maker [who is Everywhere]

to compound the colors of our limitations, and to form life tangible.


The Hebrew 1etters for Shalom are harmony,

an agreement of sound,

            a wholeness in contrapunt

            synchronised in reverent awe,


to modulate and orchestrate the spirit, on its pilgrimage,

to crochet the heart striving for the Seventh Gate,


                                                                                                                                the Sabbath millenium of Israel, our bodies home again,

                                                                                                                                souls journeying towards ancient resonance of the Creator,


                                                                                                                                when halcyon birds come to nest on troubled seas, and begins

                                                                                                                                our soon to be apprenticeship in Childhood of Harmony.