Bathsheba Transatlantic by Sarah Wetzel


Sarah Wetzel, winner of the 2009 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry. "BATHSHEBA TRANSATLANTIC is a fascinating testimony from someone who's lived in modern Israel, the real physical dangers of that life, and, throughout, the awareness of an historical inheritance of travail and faith. The poems are written sparely, but with intensely compassionate emotions—for Israelis and Palestinians both—and the bitter skill of reflection. A compelling journey through a maze of mortal dangers, a global controversy brought down to the level of a daily life conducted in almost constant spiritual suffering, with the Minotaur of anguished moral conflict at the center. A necessary book for our time"—Garrett Hongo.

Sarah Wetzel shuttles between two worlds, mapping out a terrain where settlements have begun to sprout up on both sides of the Atlantic, where a sense of homeland remains elusive. She is in-between: transient, itinerant, her quest for a sense of belonging ongoing as she cycles through her many lyrical selves. This dialogue between the Middle East and Manhattan, between a Bathsheba depicted by Rembrandt on the one hand and mythologized by the Old Testament on the other, captures the tension and struggle of a woman seeking to reinvent herself in her own image both in life and in art. A tremendous debut. -- Tim Liu, Bending the Mind Around the Dream’s Blown Fuse

In language that is both untried and probing, Sarah Wetzel dares to confront the devastating personal and public questions that paralyze nations, writers, and artists -- the most important: where is the moral line that governs "we who carry nothing suspicious," those of us not on the battlefields, but who participate nonetheless in the silent heat and brutality of conflict? Yet Bathsheba Transatlantic also tends to the personal wounds of self-exile, desire, and longing; and maybe it is this which most animates Wetzel's imagination, a poetry that avoids mere ethnography of the unconscious to take a bold survey of the heart. -- Major Jackson, Holding Company


Holy Site

She tells the boy it's a water tower.
Concrete gray and green, it rises forty feet 
on iron legs; egg-shaped lank and warped, the body
curves like a turned bell. The roof rusted through
it holds water, though only four feet deep, the rest 
pours from the metal hull. No one remembers 
the year it was built, but it's been standing there
a long time. At night, the boy hears concrete 
fall in wet chunks, a low wind whine 
through its wide cuts. And he can barely 
sleep. In summer, the boy swims 
in its dark water. He goes all the way under. 
She never stops him though the water infested 
with bird shit and invisible worms 
will, by winter, tattoo itself in small red Os 
on the inside of his wrists. And she doesn't
repeat the whispers: it's a messiah's cup, a chalice 
disguised as a tower, the water tinged brown 
by something other than iron. The barbed wire 
fence, the steel barriers, the danger signs 
all a hoax. So that no one comes. What good 
would it do? Even if pilgrims appear
with antidote, even if a single dose could cure 
the fatigue and fever, it wouldn't be enough.


Letter in the Hand of an Illiterate Woman

After Rembrandt's Bathsheba at Her Bath 
holding King David's letter


Black ink brewed from residue of oil 
etched on papyrus thinner than skin 
of an animal. The smell on her hands as if 
something burns. She traces the pain taken

over each word, the geometrical rhythm 
of angle and slope, curves like caves, their 
mouths wide open, lines twisted
bent, lines crossed and combined.

He'd placed dots and dashes beneath 
particular letters. She knows those marks 
insinuate ahs and ohs 
of speaking. She can't read, yet sees

each word has an edge. What kind 
of man sends a letter to a woman 
who can't read it? What kind of man paints 
her portrait holding a letter? --

the illusion 
how carefully she keeps turning it over.

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