I feel a dark undercurrent
of worlds scarcely intuited,
where a moment ago
night met all who were nearest me
and brought their breath
to the coastlands of the day
in waving grass, in shaking branches,
anchored me to their last smile and look,
married me to their silence.
I think I must be part of
spun in grief and fever by the night,
interpreted at the loneliest hour
by the sigh of breaking day.
My hand forgot to stroke
Was left suspended in the air,
Like a mute and frozen cry-
While like a small white boat
Swimming under my fingers
Came the dream of a child,
That could have been yours.
In all their sadness
And partial understanding,
Are strung with the bead of a smile,
To fool you,
And God himself.
My eyes are covered with
Like birds’ nests left in the woods
Perhaps a single word,
A sound, gentle and thin
Could find the way back
To that lost summer.
But my hand,
Like a dried up branch,
Can blossom no more under your gaze.
A single moment
Stripped away its tenderness,
Like the wind an autumn tree
And left it to rock a far-off, lifeless dream.
My hand was left suspended
in the air,
In the middle of the road-
Wait no longer
My outspread fingers
Are swimming away with the dream.
Loving another, yet she married my
That other portrait faded with the years.
From her album paged in musty velvet
Shimmered forth his paling, yellowing smile,
To watch her embroider a towel or tablecloth:
She pricked the vivid silk with her nostalgia.
The stitches flowed like narrow streams of blood.
The seams were silvered with her silent tears.
And my grandmother-how little I know of her life!-
Only her hands’ tremor, and the blue seam of her lips.
How can I imagine my grandfather’s love of her?
I can will myself to believe in her suffering.
No letter remains, no, not a scrap of paper
Did she will us; only pots in the attic
Crudely patched: tangible maimed witnesses
to a dead life: the young widow, the mother of five.
So she planted a luxuriant garden
That would embrace the newly barren house
And her new barrenness. So the trees grew,
Obedient to her will, in perfect rows.
Now my daughter is just sixteen
As I was on that quiet day in May
When I became pregnant of a single word
Scented with lilac, the remote song of a bird.
A few letters, and what is called “a slender volume”:
These are the relicts of my life. I lacked perspective
On happiness, so I ran ever faster
To escape the happy boundaries of my fate.
Listen, my daughter, never go in pursuit!
It all lies there, in the woven strands of blood.
How the straight trees whisper in the grandmother’s garden!
Only listen! These dim echoes in my poem…
But what can sixteen years conceive of sorrow?
And pensiveness? the tremor of old lives?
For her, only the eternal beginnings.
Where she goes, old shadows kiss her footprints.
Somewhere, in white lilac, the nightingale
Gasps out his fragile song
Which ends always with the note of eternal beginning.
You noticed a smile on my face,
And you measured my life out
In yards of blissful days
Which wait somewhere for me.
And only the brown earth heard
The quiet weeping of my steps,
When I left you.
And only the soft grass.
Which was trampled and crushed beneath my hesitating step
My heart flowing into
The high heels of my shoes
Binding them to the spot
In the silent hope,
You might call me back.
But the first tree on the edge of the road
Wise as a prophet from solitude and abandonment,
Bent to the earth by wind and storm,
Held ready for me
The cool outstretched cloth of shade
To hide the sadness in my eyes.
I give you all my seven years of wandering
I served them not knowing quite for whom-
They lie in a wrinkle around these lips of mine,
And darken with sorrow between my brows
They are just as homeless now as I myself.
And grow autumnal with the falling leaves of weary days-
No one will come to ask then of me,
And no one will take them as he goes on his way.
Let them just once follow your longing,
It matters not where, to which edge of abyss-
Since I have no use for them anyhow-
Just take them, like a sick bird, in your hand.
I’m cold, momma-
it must be the damp of your grave,
where your heart
with a German bullet at the very center of it
feeds the roots of trees
in secret betrothal.
Even in dreams I can’t find the way
to those thick woods.
Is there a path
worn by cowherds
Or would a bird know the way
that would say-
Watch over your daughter,
keep her from going down
to the black kingdom
where tears are traded
for a smile that twists,
and a scream
cuts its wrists
to keep from hearing its voice.
When I led you out, the earth spurted blood and terror
with every step we took,
the greatest good was sudden death,
and a mother’s blessing-the sure mercy of a bullet for her child.
The flowering acacias went the heavy way of exile
with the sky and us,
the air was burdened with their scent,
breathless, sweet, stifling in tears.
I wasn’t brave enough to look back,
and when I saw my home and my mother’s face in dreams,
I went grey.
My eyes are dry, but all my steps are tears.
How many lives are left to pray for?
How many graves am I closer to the earth?
What door will take me in
and where am I destined to fall?
You and I- the only two left of all our kin,
and I entrusted your young life to a star,
as my mother entrusted her quiet prayer,
my grandmother, her burning tears, to God.
Only you and I-and if I don’t make it through,
my mother’s prayer is crying in your blood.
The call of all those generations is ripening in you,
our village path is waiting for your step.
Today for the first time
after seven long years
I put on
a new dress,
But it’s too short for my grief,
too narrow for my sorrow,
and each white-glass button
like a tear
flows down the folds
heavy as a stone.
In this direction my father turned his face,
With his prayer shawl over his head.
Here are the fields and forests
He walked with firm tread.
My father’s murmuring prayer,
That like autumn leaves fell,
Could take my wild blood
My fierce passions quell.
Now I walk here alone,
The last of my race.
My grandfathers with their prayers
Made this a holy place.
And they and their grandfathers, too,
With their prayers and with their plough,
Dug themselves into this soil.
And the bond still holds now.
Under Poland’s poplar trees
They dreamed of the Holy Land,
They planted here the mountains of Gilboa.
Here their Jordan ran.
We are coming from far places,
From ghettoes, bunkers, crematorium fire,
The heirs of six million graves,
And we shall rise high, if not higher.
My wrist has become so narrow, so slim;
Your glance too heavy for it, I fear.
As with a ribbon, you could have encircled it
With only a single fleeting tear.
My fingers like ten forgotten entreaties
that from our burned out love-bush flow,
frame my face: ten bleeding signposts
that point to the ultimate depths of woe.
Only a deep thin line of my palm,
Like a pain-worn vein, whence joyance leaks,
Still moves toward the distant shores
Your lips, your smile, your glance it seeks
Every hour needles pierce the heart,
And make it bleed like the deep crimson of red silk
On cool, white-linen flesh.
And a flower newly stitched,
Sprouts on the grave of the new-born day.
And pillows and clothes all scattered about,
Stare from every corner in the room,
While, on the narrow, sagging shoulders of young women,
With mad and vacant eyes.
In the field of yellow corn-stalks on a velvet blanket,
Lie our youthful years in hidden faces,
While time goes on
Night and day,
And on the blanched, worn hands of women,
Are like marks of solitude and sorrow.
How many years have passed
since I stepped across the threshold
for the last time?
A bridal canopy of turbid smoke
has spanned itself
above my one-time home
with its wrought-iron rail,
and they who led me down the aisle to my beloved
are Belzec and Maidenek.
fugitive from under that black pall
am homeless still,
nomad, with no guide,
scarred by adversity and pain.
My needs are few,
a roof for my sorrow
beneath the chilling glance
from alien eyes.
How many years have passed
since I crossed my own threshold
for the last time?
My days and nights grow dim
that m home hangs
suspended on a spider-thread
That’s how they met,
In a dream in the night,
The young girl with loose, flying hair
And the woman on toward sixty.
The girl in her velvet robe
In the portrait with two younger brothers,
Standing stiff in a single row,
Suppressing the laughter on her puckered lips
Over the antics of the village photographer.
They were all together then.
The ailing, young father nearby,
Gazing on the three, little heads,
And aware of the harsh hand then
Taking the measure of his life.
As though he would remember them into eternity,
Taking with him,
The longing and love to the other side.
The young girl hastened somewhere,
Perhaps to keep her rendezvous
With the spring just breaking from its bud.
From the strange woman
Barring her way—
Then, why does the woman look upon her so,
As though with her glance
To set ablaze her youthful longing
In the dream of morrow’s fortune?
She stands immobile
As though awaiting someone,
Her lip-corners stamped with grief
Never more to smile,
Human shadows circling ‘round her,
Long burned into dust,
Shadows with outstretched hands,
Where she may hide her face.
My sorrow has yesterday’s vision
and the still wistful mien of today.
they’re wedded together by fancy
that weaned me from Fortune away.
It may be in nobody’s twilight.
as in a murky stream
will drown itself my sorrow
and I together with him.
The dream will remain on the outside
a step-child of twelfth-hour blight
and wonder how one can possibly
turn grey in a single night…
I would bear up the sun with an incantation,
(the chanting of magical words)
and stretch forth my hands to sustain it
(will Aaron and Chur come forth from the Bible?)
that you may anoint the earth with your footstep,
offering its parched and feverish lip
your own shadow for drink.
Oh, how familiar her bitter sorrow,
Akin to my own solitude,
Like the encircling silence
And your dream,
Gone there before you,
Like a pillar
For every cavern
Of the most secret fastness
To a death-ennobled mount.
Wringing hands like one bereft,
When pain pervades the trembling limb,
Listening to each crackling finger,
Struggling with its mute lament.
Anguished words like mourner’s hands,
Vain to sever them apart,
From their destined sacrifice,
Their pledge with sorrow.
They twist and struggle, strangling
Your naked throat and clamor,
And abiding fractured, broken,
Like frozen hands of a mourner in his grief.
I can answer now,
All they’d ask of me,
So adult am I, that I do fear,
Memories of the cycles of the sun and moon,
Now so far gone from all my childhood days.
And should I fell the urge to weep,
I’ve learned how one should smile,
And yet I’ve still not found the path
To meet this sorrow,
That’s still without a name.
Whoever is wandering and on this night,
Feels kin with a tear, let him come to me,
I’ve pit out the light and drawn my curtain,
And prepared his welcome and food and drink.
And as with my bread this solitude I share,
This bread my hands doth break asunder,
None refused nor anyone be shamed.
And my poor word, oh, my poor word share
How bitter or how venomous the palate,
Its paper path leads on to God,
Bearing him your silent dream and grief.