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The Secrets
of the Tribe

New York: Sheep Meadow Press, 1981.

Finalist for The Yale Younger Poets Award, selected by Richard Hugo.

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listenListen to Chana Bloch reading "Watching"


for my father

You and I used to talk about
Lear and his girls
(I read it in school,

you saw it on the Yiddish stage
where the audience yelled:
Don't believe them,

they're rotten)
that Jewish father and his
suburban daughters.
Now I'm here with the rest,
smelling the silences,
watching you

What will it look like?
Lost on the bed
without shoes, without lungs,
you won't talk
except to the wall: I'm dying,
and to the nurse: Be
careful, I
may live.

What does a daughter say
to the bones
that won't answer --

Thank you to the nice man?
The last time
we went to the Bronx Zoo,
the elephants were smelly as ever,
all those warm Sundays,
the monkeys as lewd.
But they put the penguins
behind curved glass
with a radiant sky
painted on the far wall.
And all those birds

lined up with their backs to us
watching the wrong

"Chana Bloch's poems whisper swiftly what has been in us since we began. They are telling, quick revelations of the creatures we are, creatures we may not ignore and must not distort. Chana Bloch holds human existence in constant sure focus." -- Richard Hugo

"Chana Bloch has a spine of steel, and irony is her weapon. Her poems are medallions of small courages. [Her] faith in the good is as firm and spare as her poetic line. Her wisdom is fully mature and her portraits as strikingly unadorned as the great Appalachian photographs of Doris Ullman. This is not street poetry but it has the grit and wind and changelessness of streets because it has the durable face of people striding forward, bent on living. . . . Not many people ever know as much as Chana Bloch and few make poems that understand so lucidly. . . . Whether she writes of John the Baptist, exile, Yom Kippur, or a flower-eating stag who "keeps the secrets of the tribe," her speech is clear, crisp and bright as brass." -- Dave Smith, American Poetry Review

"These are very original, intelligent, and deeply-felt poems. They are tragic and comic -- and above all, they are always fresh." -- Yehuda Amichai

"Chana Bloch opens The Secrets of the Tribe with a moving sequence on her father's death called "The Death of the Bronx" which locates her in the Jewish New York of maybe 30 years back, and also establishes a connection with the ancient, biblical past. By the end of the volume, which has narrative and novelistic qualities, Bloch has moved us out of the past and out of the city, into a garden that's part Berkeley, part Eden. Life flourishes here. There are babies, good enough to eat, and deer who come to nibble the hydrangeas. . . . It's characteristic of Bloch to see even in a solitary deer a tribal connection. She's a poet who finds kinships, ties that bind, everywhere, and here brings together poems that are deeply felt and finely made. -- Emily Leider, San Francisco Review of Books