Gretti Izak z”l, painter and poet, was born in 1928 in Bulgaria.  Her early education was with private governesses and in a American school where, besides English, she learned French and German.  In 1943 Gretti’s parents fled Nazi occupied Bulgaria with their two children, leaving everything behind them.  They made their way to Tel Aviv in 1944.  When the war for Israeli independence broke out, Gretti, because her languages, was assigned to the intelligence unit of the army, where she attained officer status.  On leaving the army Gretti studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she met her future husband, a physician.   Besides raising her two daughters, Tami and Ruti, Gretti studied art history in England, Italy and America.  She worked as a teacher of art, as arts editor for a publishing house, and as a scientific translator, besides doing extensive volunteer work and painting.  After her husband’s sudden death in 1980 she was no longer able to paint and turned instead to writing poetry.  She published eight collections of poetry in English, and her work has been translated into several languages.

Gretti Izak passed away on November 28, 2016.  As her friend and fellow-poet Avril Meallem remembers, “Gretti, a refined, dignified, gracious, highly intellectual and much loved lady always had a smile on her face, dressed immaculately and had the unique ability to make everyone feel that their life was so interesting to her.”

Since the fall-winter issue of 2002-2003, when The Deronda Review was still called The Neovictorian/Cochlea, Gretti Izak has been a constant presence in its pages.  Here we present, in chronological order, the poems by Gretti that we have published over the years. 




Almost like the birds vanishing

over the waters on their migrations,

I am but dust and ashes

yet I am told that for my sake

was the world created.


What am I to do with this world

where statues of lions greet me

at every comer of my city,

multi-colored, flamboyant,

one of them wearing

the golden crown

of Judea's past glory,

his stark white body dirtied by the soot

of motorcars and the pollution in the air,

and where I am told that the chemicals

and germs detonated with a bomb

could easily waft over my whole land

and lace us all with death.


These are the days of stones displaying

holes shaped like sunken eyes and mouths

open in shrieks, the forehead burrowed

with deep folds of worry.

Silence hits our prayers,

the scenery falls apart between words.


I write each poem as if it were the last one

I will write, in my grip the world raised

to the level of my heart. This is the most

that I can do. Together with the lions

I round distances between the cold geometry

of stars never sure where to search for God's

gate of mercy, yet certain it is there,

ashes and dust on my head.






You have to have a city that is a real beauty, I think,

a city which is gorgeous and isn't a lie.

It's all about whether you spent a lot of time thinking

about your city, loving her, remembering her story,


whether an awareness, some infinitely muted words

whispered deep into your heart don't dissipate

like clouds driven by the wind but urge instead

the offer of prayers to her well‑being.


If the attendant horrors of life get you,

there are the bright lights of windows

and other people with private understanding

of the sacred to sober you up, and of course,

there is always the sky of Jerusalem, a living

continuous tradition, a sort of clarity to the time

you occupy on earth as you name what you see,


the way Adam did at the beginning of Creation,

taking possession of what was rightfully his

while he studied the distant blue and heard crows

caw in trees, wearing the look of permanence

and not of expediency.


You see how the first rain cleanses what is irrelevant and dirty,

you trust again the beauty of your possessions


you see how your city weaves promises of redemption in the air.






Once I had a habit of speaking softly,

effortless graciousness my blessing,

like music heard ahead of what goes on

in the head

when words are undisguised by usage,

the dreaming by the waking


- like when you converse with hyacinths

unimpressed by firm reasoning

with love clearing straits of forgetfulness asking

how come I forgot the time when together with Adam

I was commissioned not to mess up the earth

but conscientious as a sunrise

radiate only goodness,

instructed by the soul exhale fire and lava

in an attempt to escape the clutch of unfaithfulness.


I emerge from oblivion but you'd be wrong to think,

happy is my waking. The structure of the body

caring only for itself, can't sustain

the constancy of speaking softly

in the mouth milk and honey, again and again

an endearment to tree, to man, to sun and sea 

 – the soul's memory of a time before slaughter

with love reigning in a universe where promises

are never forgotten.





Near Kisangani in the Congo

diamonds sparkle in the gravel –

you can bend and scoop them with 

        your hand


Near the entrance to Jerusalem

up the hushed ramp of Judean rock

voices in prayers rise and fall like

         outstretched hands


Taste the sweetness of their sound –

        cream of wheat and honey

             figs and pomegranates



The sparkle of blessings in the air

       and see the birds     the birds

             dive and swoop

wisps of joy on their wings






On reaching Jerusalem

moon-crowned, winged

by mist, I enter a crystal

maze of prophecies

cast in ciphers


cypresses poplars

the stones everyone writes about,

adding earthly details

to her record of

unrelenting patience


the impossible-to-bear days

awaiting the fruition

of blessings that like

pomegranates in spring

take their time to ripen.


It seems I have to accept

the high price of faith

in the undefined,

no promises having

been made on dates.


May the aura of hope

around Jerusalem’s gates

comfort the lonely waiting.






The child loves your shoes,

puts on your best blouse

trailing it on the floor,

smears lipstick on her round face

laughing in the mirror, delighted

to replay scenes from your world


repeats time and again words

of conversations with your friends –

wants to swing close to the sky

on flowering branches of trees,

imagining she is you.


                        And mothers search

for uncorrupted words to sing:

Please, please, grant

that what befell us,

building a palace of dreams,

I mean, of shattered dreams,

not happen to our children.

            – Gretti Izak (18)





                                    a sigh will make you

                        a whole new person

            in body and soul

                        — Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlev



who fly


and sigh,



of hope

on the spiral

of time


their wings

of love-feathers

fill the wind

with wreckage

as they collide

with those who

do not know how to sigh.


I am your sister

            I am your mother

they whisper

kneeling by polluted rivers

that can’t cleanse to peace,

can’t bring to sighs

the cruel Prince of War


their son and brother.






On reaching Jerusalem

moon-crowned, winged

by mist, I enter a crystal

maze of prophecies

cast in ciphers


cypresses poplars

the stones everyone writes about,

adding earthly details

to her record of

unrelenting patience


the impossible-to-bear days

awaiting the fruition

of blessings that like

pomegranates in spring

take their time to ripen.


It seems I have to accept

the high price of faith

in the undefined,

no promises having

been made on dates.


May the aura of hope

around Jerusalem’s gates

comfort the lonely waiting.






This year my Christmas cactus

stretched her leaves

in countless directions,

bearing a profusion of blossoms.

For five years indifferent and frigid,

unresponsive to expensive medication

or fragrant water sprays,

she discouraged friendship.

I lived completely for her flowering—

laden with knowledge my fingers

clawed at her insides for a hidden clue

    perhaps a silken cord, perhaps tiny

glass bells or maybe singing in French,

might induce her to create one rosette?


I think because this year my desire

for peace was madder than ever

as avalanche-bearing clouds mass

over my country

and there are no new words to remember

when we pray for the end of slaughter         

    because of the wounded air, the blazing

grief for wounds that do not heal,


because of this she flowered— 

with her beauty to comfort me.  






This is about living fifty years in the same place,

creating a presence with simple words,

in the early light of the morning

keeping an eye on things, taking care

of chores like a fence between neighbors

in need of repair

or watching the young poinciana tree

lovingly, which is my way of praying


for the future holds in store a darkness

as I see this new type of men expanding

too rapidly, whose shape of mouth

is like yours or mine

and who can also smile


that is, until one sees them 

with thousand of bodies lying

around them, all of whom they



Ah, it’s easy to change the history of the world

were our presence on earth such that disowns 

men who profess murder as a calling.






They mirror calm seas and promontories,

the warmth of moon-bathed lagoons,

riverbeds of trees with golden heart-shaped

leaves and ravishing beautiful flowers.


In a place like this, I think, the problem is

one of losing bounds, straying too far.


I dream to cut my shadow from me,

not see myself darken the fabulous light

of their essence.


Nobody recalls how this happened,

how they were born those words that fly

and soar like the eagles in the sky,


that we try to grasp gently

lest they break to shreds

in our calloused hands.  






Must we gaze at heaven to become

soulful enough, caring and human enough

to find the words that will elevate poetry

from the realm of the dead

and relate it again to what is timeless,

igniting inspiration; when with the words

we hear melodies that heal wounds.


Ah  Muse why are you silent? Have we betrayed you

because we don’t write with our entire body and soul, all

our nerves aflame, not following the world’s latest whims

and fancies, not wanting to be clever but wise, breathing,

breathing the joy of truth.


There is a palace where words move in turn through gold

and fire, finding secret doors to step out into rainbow light,

the trees waving white flowers in their green arms, the scent

of honey in the air. Mornings and nights, pastures and cities,

my mother residing in a different dimension are enlivened;

the breath of the sea is in the poem;


it is iridescent in color like a peacock spreading his treasures

and our tongues taste the language of heaven.




MARKING TIME                                                                                                     

High in the sky two cranes spin and glide

with ballet precision as on earth the last

summer days slip off like a loosened harness.

The forecast is the furrowed clouds may bring

rain to a soil raked by fever.

          I wish the sky to gleam with water,

to fondly embrace us and clear up our heated brain

so we can look in the mirror and recognize our true self,

the one envisioned by our Maker.


O let me wake in Monet’s garden of flowering azaleas,

narcissi, masses of pink, mauve and off-white roses,

the air thick with bees, the sky of bright blue marking time,

when a year becomes a second like somewhere over the edge

of the Milky Way, giving me more time to pray and entreat, 

to supplicate the Lord to take away my heart of stone.


I have known this mood before.

But I am becoming more and more desperate.

I want my love to be greater and truly substantial;

I beg to have the signature of the Holy One etched

on my errant heart, on each thought I have,

and on everything I write.  





War being war

only trouble harrowed our days.


Even the oases dried up.

Wild horses roamed

the shrinking marshes

kicking up dust.

Migrant birds didn’t stop

to visit between continents

but scud missiles did.


To keep the heart alive

rumours flew:     

      the improved model

of the world will end

this latest celebration

of egomania —

( as Jeremiah foretold )


while the Ethiopians’

chocolate doe-like eyes

beseeched the sky for explanations.


To reach their ancestral home

they travelled on foot

across deserts and drought

as deliberate as the gap

between atomic and rotational

time around the sun,

when leap seconds rush in,

global winds and the moving

molten matter in the planet’s interior

relate to distant points in the solar system —


wonders understood by scientists

      and, of course, the Ethiopians,

who knew that nothing in nature

recognizes borders,

territorial claims or invasions.






For my friend, the painter,

it is now time to admire

the fuchsia tree so earthbound

and content, so totally untainted

by our own experience,

draping  big satin leaf clusters

and pink flowers over the great

liquidity of the sea.



He prepares the canvas

by creating a barrier of gesso

between linen and pigment.

The  tangibility of things

sways his mind with storms of logic:

Should he feel guilty building barriers,

boundaries, devices for the fuchsia tree

which borrows so discreetly hues

from the amenable sea? 



Veil over veil of glazes,

another shield, blocking façade,

oils and thinners gnaw at cloth,

sheath deep into weave and fibre;

streaming skeins of paint

form themselves into changing shapes —

slippery nuances of colour swept across

the body of canvas


nameless energy he understands

as total perfection  that if not contained

will consume him like an arrow of fire.





He stands in the centre

of the circle,

gathers, tries to plug in tentacles

that connect the realm above nature

to this unhappy world in the need

to transcend physicality.


The circumference

of the circle stretches

many times over,

bathed in all the colors

of the spectrum.

The barrage of conflicts,

past disappointments accumulate;

ghosts invoked from previous

lives, other ages, his yearnings

long time forgotten, claim

their place in the circle. 


Inside the busy silence

everything unspoken waits

the chance to express itself,

insists it is important to be


Synapses pop and flare,

he is pressured all the time,

tries to keep his circle steady

as the rich undercurrent of life

sways it. He knows he will be

judged by what he absorbed

from all that whirls around

to make his life a testament

to God’s truth and beauty.






Because of wrong directions

 -- or so we thought --

we ended up driving round

the same street time after time,

a convergence of cul-de-sacs,

east and west playing hide

and seek in the black night.


Passing cars like pulsars pressing

from deep space, shivered the metal

skeleton of our car, and those parked

on both sides of the narrow streets echoed

warnings of collusion. Stray cats turned up

and disappeared like ghosts, and we heard

children crying as in an extended living room.


In Tel Aviv you are not supposed to get lost,

syncopated by right-angled planning,

a sea to the west easily keeps one oriented,

relentlessly runs its course of waves

to account for each heartbeat of the city,

noisy, never sleeping, driven by postcard

novelties, light-heartedly accepting all.


This surely was the spell locking us to drive

in circles, perhaps for a while at least, wanting

to forget what lies to the east, those exacting heights

of Jerusalem that belittle all man's right-angled plans,

novelties and certainties.






Summer is gone, the time of flying kites

and eating sweet corn on the beach

                   the time of doing nothing

and not feeling guilty.


Confronted with the pensiveness of autumn

I start thinking how each day may be the last

of my life and I am remiss of so much I meant

to accomplish. Can I console myself with those

who know mysteries that we are given second

chances in future lives to correct our failures?


All this because when I opened the door

and looked at the sky, I saw a flock of cranes,

their white wings touched by the gold of the sun,

making their way to other pastures.


They will be back in spring and like the seasons

of the year that reassure us with the constancy

of renewal, reveal the blessed never ending cycle

of arrivals and departures.   






Mourning still—

Why, I ask, the passage of years,

the contentment of the now,

the joys and blessings of a good life,

should have brought closure.


Insensible and defiant as a child’s

tantrum, the pain still festers.

In the sound of a woman’s voice,

which I don’t recognize as my own,

a memory how she dared not weep,

for if she did, there’d be no way to stop.


Inhabiting the gentle terrain of womanhood

stands a wild passionate core, hard-hitting, harsh,

protesting, death-questioning, resisting to be consoled.


Imagining the fragile bones of a child in my arms,

I nurture the wound that does not heal, noting how

the blue angel of consolation denies opening her gates,


my refusal to heal considered ungodly.




Dark Wings


My mother and father lie next to each other

in white marble beds close to the sunlit sands

of the Mediterranean.


There is grief    there always will be

a fresh pool of tears in the ground. Every day

code words in the wind expect to be deciphered


and even though we all turn to dust and ashes,

there surely is an afterlife as I don’t have to remind you

how personal is the message in the bird’s song over a grave.


We don’t have that many words for the wonder

of her dark wings continuously outspread to catch the light,

bringing to life the precious love story of the dead we miss.      




Of Narrators


A first-person narrator

is telling a story

about the thirty-six righteous men

upon whom the world stands

—the world that can be transformed

when one acquires a holy state of mind

and designs a bridge between worlds.


When Rabbi Steinsaltz gives a lesson,

one can barely hear his voice.

One word is hanging from the ceiling,

one word is perched on a book like

a bright-faced bird but they all connect

and electrify the atmosphere.


Are ideas conduits of electricity?

Always lightening up a room  also

the ever predictable revolutions of the clock


like wind power

like the ferocity of the warrior

always comparable to heroic hegemonies—


that throbbing with transformation.




Elegy on the Wings of a Dove


Her flight is not the eagle’s

high over the hills of Judea.

Too small for heroics,

hear her coo at sunrise

beating short wings,

pictured everywhere

carrying an olive branch.


But is the branch ever picked up?

Every year I find myself

in a labyrinth,

not the Greek of minotaur fame

where one can retrace steps and

sail home on wide white ships  


but one where I tread

a clumsy dirt-road coiled

like a viper inside

an astronaut’s capsule

where my brief glimpses

of landings shake, shift, 

defuse suspense and disappear.


You’re jammed inside the labyrinth

the dreams of peace shattered


the wings of doves outside

tap-tapping against the window.






In 1955, in Jerusalem, when we wanted

to have a good time we trooped to Shemesh,

the squeezed tight eatery, where we shared

our food and heard the whisper of each “I love you”.

Love and humus make good companions, though I never

believed love edible and perishable in those days.


With time Shemesh moved to the sunny side

of the street, became posh and elegant

and like all grand restaurants serves filet mignon

and fancy hors d’oeuvres. When I walk in, Shemesh

greets me warmly and shows me the newest sun paintings

or sculptures that embellish his restaurant, for in Hebrew

Shemesh means sun.


I nod my head in admiration but always ask:

Where is the sun of our youth hiding in these days of terror,

the sun of Joshua who said: Sun, keep shining in Gibeon so

the people can see if an enemy is  approaching.






Saucy mistress that she is today

always looking for a new lover,

Tel Aviv was once a flower child,

innocent and sleepy.

They loved her rolling sand dunes

and the great labyrinth of her pretensions

for weren’t they well-behaved children

from good schools when the scent

of the city was fresh like orange blossoms

in the Sharon valley, purging thoughts

from dark uncertainties,

the Mediterranean roar unheard

because of their dreaming.


Sometimes they’d take a bus to go

rowing on the Yarkon river.

Bencho would maneuver to sit

next to Gretti, Berto and Renny

would double-count the present—

no one should be missing,

none lost to the current alight

with lotus flowers that burnt

signs along the shore,

that spoke to the full moon

in which their reflection was held captive

by the moment, playing hide and seek,


the moment that waited between the waves

to catch and splash them in the foaming river.