Raising the Dead

“On lunar flutes,
crickets are playing sadness on my soul…
Yellow as the moons, the pumpkins roll.”[1]

On this swollen summer day
The Connecticut River Valley
Is thick with humid air you think you can drink,
Will I ever be able to write as well as you,
Grandfather’s favorite poet?

Even in translation your words speak out
And evoke the feelings you trusted to paper.
I cannot of course read your native words
Except roughly and with little understanding.

I did not have to escape from here
To run to there,
Then work in bare skeletons of buildings
Packed with other shoemaker-poets in New York.

I was not in that boiling caldron pot
Of ideas, migrants and immigrants,
I was not.

I can only look back and taste the desiccated remnants
Of “The Plum” and “Odors”, reconstituted by others
In a way that I may glean some of the flavors you left.

I chant, amid the alien corn, the tears
of desert wanderers under alien stars.[2]

1 From Indian Summer, by Mani Leib
2 From To the Gentile Poet by Mani Leib,

Both translated from Yiddish by John Hollander
In The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse,
1988, Viking Penguin, New York

 

 

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