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