Careful! Tread softly stranger,
Don't disturb my slumber.
It took all my strength to get here,
And I'm nameless as a number.
But should you feel the itch to know
Who is it that lies below
Open your album and jot this down:
"Here lies a poet with a kingly crown
Who died of drinking his own sweet brew--
Honeyed song that held arsenic too."
While others were learning from rows of books--
Civility, fine manners,
The glory of nations and names of stars--
Life was preparing a tribal gift for me:
A back like an ox to carry a heavy destiny,
Hands as hard as oak,
And a fine feeling for iambics and rhyme.
In my eighth year
I was wholly familiar
With pangs of hunger and wounds of the soul.
And, as memory of homeland can never be numb,
How well I recall how we guarded every crumb;
Salt codfish and bread, washed down with water,
Small as I was, already a tormented young hater.
Tears of my mother, how clear through the years;
Sighs of my granddad at his yellowed Gemarah.
And children, so sickly, blistered and bitten.
In me--a dog's loyalty, and the gentleness of a kitten.
And a blonde peasant girl, gooseberry-eyed
What I tell not my mother, to her I confide.
In an attic where doves are cooing,
There still lies my theft, a book by Gorky--
In the margin this note:"Oh God, help me please,
Someday I too shall write poems like these."
But to me has been dealt a fate like Lear's:
A darkened throne room at the abyss edge
And nowhere for the king to take his stance.
My misery speaks, my bitterness shrieks,
Along with thousands, down here I sit
In the gutter where everyone may spit,
And thence--my muse and song of romance.
Audio in English
My neighbor has everything--
Bread and land and fame,
He plays his life like a lively waltz,
His name is like a shield of flame;
Everywhere his banners wave,
And even God is his slave.
A little bird lives in a cage of gold,
Trilling its song both night and day--
Of spring in a forest of Cathay,
But the song stirs no one,
The song awakens no one.
My neighbor is rich, his life is good,
And--not so good, perhaps.
But I am poor and have nothing,
Only a hammer and a chisel and a saw,
But when the burning sky like an arm of God
Sends me home to my four silent walls
I am weary,
And cannot lift my hands to Him,
And when I try--down they fall,
Because these hands are heavier than their burden
And God is to me one, the first and the last,
And my heart is full and swelling,
And my eyes are deep and overflowing.
I am poor and have nothing at all
But a hammer and chisel and saw,
And a diamond that lights my darkling song,
And a tear that burns in my prayer to God.
Enemies, Disperse Us
We molder in your flourishing land,
We who have been blessed and cursed
With a burdensome will-to-live
And the dream solace of the Mavier Yabok.*
We have slender hands and Argus-eyes.
We've seen it all, and--all has flown away.
Glory and the conquest--not our bubbles.
We are Jobs, standing in ruins,
With a sharpened hypersense
Of the basic laws of life.
Our nerves vibrate like seismic signals
Telling of impending earth upheavals,
Yet there can be no dissolution
Of the ancient tribe;
There can be no destruction
Of its rich heritage.
Tribe of voluptuaries, ascetics and martyrs,
Tragic tribe of archetypes
With kitlen, thallisim and mezuzahs,
Followers of archaic, outlandish muses,
Fulfilling a parchment-yellow and pearl-gray destiny.
We are windborne, floating; we swim
Like oil-drops on secluded streams.
We cannot dissolve,
We cannot drown,
And your streams do not dry out.
* The prayer for safe passage
And once again I call to you
Almighty one, for aid.
But my voice is lost in the night
As when a lamb among wolves has strayed.
I know where you are,
Where you always are,
But I see you not.
And here I am
Not in the heights
Nor yet in the depths.
I hold tight
With all my might
Like a stubborn tear.
I tremble in fear
As when the breeze
Moves through the trees.
Oh, cut me off, I cry
Asking only for my rights
Decide once and for all
Fly or fall.
I am ready for my fate
Whether I rise to the golden aureole
Or descend to the worms that wait.
You, My God
Before you, my God, arises my despair;
The hour of grief has come whose burden I must bear,
I hear the seagulls flying in the night
But all is quiet in my "four ells of space."
My sorrow rises cold and thin
And spreads like sea foam over the shore.
And your primordial spirit mingling with my sadness
Hovers over me and over all dead things.
Open your depths to my loneliness;
Closer, closer to you.
Oh God, what will I do--
Soon they will be here
Bringing street-roar and shackling pity.
Heavy and in vain
As falls the dark rain
Through desolate nights upon a stream
Will fall their talk
On my soul.
Like a wind blustering
Over hilltop and forest
Will I come to the door of your temple--
The long-sought white flaming sanctuary.
On all fours will I kneel before you:
God of the great world,
I am weary under the enemy's yoke,
Weary and defenseless.
Like a waterflower my silence.
Like a knife my grief in the night.
Misery clings to my walls.
Darkness spreads itself over me.
All is lost.
My God, my God--
Come to the rescue of those who lean on me
Like mimosas in a storm.
And if I will not find you there--
Where else shall I look?
With my hands raised on high,
With a heart plucked bare,
Hard is the earth
And closed is the sky.
Of all the sons, daughters and grandchildren
That my grandfather had sent forth to all four
Sad corners of the earth--
I am the only one who stopped stock still
In the stream, and perhaps the last one who remembers
The door which would wink invitingly to every pauper:
The broad table with its temptation of free food,
Grace after the meals like the cooing in dovecotes;
Peddlers with their carts, baskets and packs,
Tanned peasants with oats and potato sacks;
A pair of Talmudists immersed in chess
Meditating clues, what does this or that signify?
After evening prayer the oil lamp light falls on books and tea
And the lovesick one who sings at her sewing:
"Anyessi moye dusho"*--like fire in wool
The woman's voice burns into the heart of the guest.
Satin yarmelkes on foreheads like chalk,
And in every alcove someone smiles under silken ruffles.
Sabbaths, holidays like a carnival
And a certain word often repeated--"Khazal"**
Days under a veil of gold and pain.
Nights of tender longing and moonlit beauty.
And something else that sparkles in the memory-
A bare trace from the child's years of anguish:
A wagon, a train and a gallop of houses
And before the eyes swim white milestones
And like a melody from an old song of love
There still rings my grandfather's "Be a Jew."
· "Carry my soul into the blue yonder"-the
first words of a famous Russian song by S. Frug
** "Our sages of blessed memory"
And Tell Them
Go out into the street and address
All those who deal in godless holiness;
Tell them commandingly when they've come
Like the wonder-worker in the Hippodrome
That goat-footed Pan with the silvered flute
Plays his lies because he needs no bread.
And Zacharia, the gaiter-maker, and you and me,
We know that it isn't the fault of the Diety
That the tailor lacks a coat and the carpenter a roof.
And then tell them this further truth:
The words which the authority of God invoke
Must be bare and thin as cigarette smoke.
But the truth won't come from those committees
That deal in Days of Awe purities.
And if they don't believe you, show your callouses to them all,
And they can hit their heads against the wall
If they won't see that this is the reward
Which God pays and gives in the form of bread.
And go home and do as did Bialik and Moishe Laib,
Grit your teeth and weep and scold and praise
That fate of yours which is already near its end
And which a demon had planned
On The Words
Someday you will come from far away
Seeking out my "palace, my salon";
I'll leave you a marker--
A sign on the dunghill,
Beware--contagion is here.
And bronzed neighbors glaring their hate
Singing tarry songs in the blue evening,
"Let my people go."
And you will understand, I know,
The despair of the mourners sitting shiva.
You will ask: and what did he leave?
They'll show you--tear stains on the words,
He wouldn't permit himself more
Refused to write out the text.
(You will praise me for that).
Far into the sky you'll gaze
And savor like poison on your palate,
The meaning of the stains and scribbles.
You will come, I know you will come
When I will be amid the nasty smells
Crawling through the tangled weeds
Darkling against the stars
Scalding like poems through tears.
Front Of The Mirror
Sometimes I say to myself when alone--
"Harsh as the sound of stone upon stone
Falls judgment on me in double degree--
Facts of the scholar but acts of the fool.
See how you strive with paper and pen
To portray the loveliness of--ruin.
Why do you think there's even a chance
To get any fame from such a stance?
You push your name in every review
When the very ground falls from under you?
Go sing about a bird that sings in the tree
When you don't even hear it or believe it is there!
A bird should sing in the cold and the wind?
How do you dare to play such a joke
On all those innocent, harmless folk?"
The Twinkler Of Heavenly Sorrow
I feel I must fly to the North Star
Whose diamond light lets me not wake or sleep;
Is there peace and joy in that tower up there?
And I recall the line from the heart
Of that the Prince of poets:
---"Would I were steadfast as thou art."
A mistake, my friend, I see it from here.
It too is a captive, it too was tricked
By destiny into shining forever and ever.
I feel it wants to fall.
It wearies of its double role:
Burning with light, spreading sorrow of night.
And as he comes past that cloud of amber
I will leap like a leopard, a leopard!
To that Midas--the star of the North
And in open anger demand to know:
"Since you are as lonely and sad as me
Why do you mock me and let me not wake or sleep?"
Autumn. A few cold stars.
As if through broken organ reeds
The last symphony of summer is sounding.
How many times the leaves have fallen
On the ashen twilight of the grass.
But there is inscribed a moment in memory
By a gentle and steady hand,
Time, place and things--
Shavings on a turbulent stream.
Even now I love to recall
Like a sorrowful melody
The half-forgotten name
Of a peasant Anabel-Lee.
Among white birches there is a path
Where only the moon and the gnomes are awake,
And far away there is a floating wake
Of a solitary peasant and his cart.
And something else; there is a tryst
Beneath a bush where bodies will not rest.
Body and body and blood like coral--
And then a pathos of silence.
Through a clouded film
Two pairs of eyes in tears--
And in the heart a lament like a psalm.
Under your little crib there stands no little white kid,
And your father has not gone to sell raisins at the fair,
But with a saw and a hammer on the twelfth story somewhere
He builds palaces for strangers,
Palaces for strangers,
Weary and silent, your father comes home with
the setting sun
(As night falls the sky is filled with burning brands)
He stretches forth his work stiffened hands
And kisses your tiny fingers,
Your tiny fingers,
And be brings you a manikin, all pale and rubbery;
You give it a turn and it will leap and run--
It looks like the old clothes man of the slum
Who spreads sorrow on the stairs,
Sorrow on the stairs.
After supper your father sings a little song
And then tells you a tale about the ferocious bear
Who lurks in the woods and stalks the wanderer
Going through the woods,
The wild, wild woods,
Days I Have Lived
The days I have lived stand sentry over me
Who lives in the center- shackled, surrounded.
To my ears there come the words that one says to another:
"Do not release him from his blindfolded captivity
Until all that we've entrusted to him
Is paid in full."
Humbly and mute
I move in the ring of my demanding days,
Into which comes each day a fresh creditor;
Each moment a new link in the chain,
Tighter, surer the fence
And greater, heavier the debt.
A prisoner, I stand, and I pay
And I pay, and I pay--
All my joy and redness of my blood,
The oaken height of my body,
Sparkling wetness of my eye--
And they, the days of the life I have lived
Take all I give, demand more, and laugh at me all the while.
The truth about our street is not what the painter will paint.
What do I care if he smears our roof with gold of the sun,
When he doesn't know how familiarly death looks into our windows,
And he hasn't seen the faces of mothers in hunger.
Like ships in a fog, our days our devoured by
Six days in the week tramp on elephant feet,
And rest-day and holiday--here, read my notes:
The picnic flavors of hot dogs and other men's wives.
See there in the twilight--a faded girl is walking
Like a sorrowful clown in pursuit of the sadness within.
Though she washed her one blouse to bolster her price,
Break of day brings a shudder at her eczema-flame.
And our children--they shriek headlines at every
A cat has died; an ape has miscarried in silks.
In the bright-lit distance a bald eunuch sings moon-songs
While the waiter listens gravely in mummy-like trance.
And nothing is ours on the table we've set--
Not even our sorrow, which, like a berusted razor
Cannot cut, but only tickles the painter's unseeing eye
As it begs him: prettify me in gold like a lie.
Heavy have grown my hands--
Stone gray and hard.
Crowbar and hammer have bent in my back.
Flaming sun has blackened my skin.
Salty sweat stings in my eyes.
From labors, no let-up.
From foes, no mercy.
And my muse demands one more thing:
"More blood in the ink."
Death is not a fierce old man,
No need to let him frighten you;
He brings no bell or rataplan
And rests you under grass and dew.
Life is the one that bedazzles your eyes
And causes your steps to go astray;
He taunts you with the rainbow
And what's beyond-he will not say.
But death is not a fearsome tiger
Nor a sightless God of stone;
Death tweaks the noses of proud victors
And brings the homeless--home.
Picture now the land were all men are alike
Where a moon shines silently on a lake
And a giant eye-of-mercy watches the last rendezvous
Of the one who yearns for rest long overdue.
Nothing breaks, nothing interrupts this everlasting night.
All burdens become featherlight.
Here lie little hills ruled off in rows,
But under them the rot begins and new life grows.
Oh Mother Earth, I know not how, but I feel
That somewhere within there is a regulating wheel
Of bloom and blight, of growth and decline
(Chicken or egg--both riddle and design).
It's only that I lack the hara-kiri zest
Or I might myself now lie down and rest
In your comforting green emptiness
Alongside all the tired, nameless Jobs of eternity
Who, enduring all, resisted to the door of death
The wish to wallow in self-disgusting-pity.
Grass covers all.
Where is that ruin over which no grass has grown?
But not the anguish of those who death have known.
It is the wolf who biting off the leg caught in the trap,
Licks the hot wound, and feels triumph in the act.
It is the forest tree after the lighting strike
That shakes itself and grows higher yet.
But not Homo sapiens, in God's image, and with woven net of nerves,
Where find for him each day a new meaning in life that serves
To explain the evil of the mighty Lilliputian brood
Who strike down brothers and bathe in their blood?
Meaning for those mind-and-body congenital ills
Bearing microbes and suffering till it kills,
A meaning for the weakness of the loins
Which senility and old age enjoins.
Slowly the old heart still beats out its part,
Sclerotic lungs still sip the air,
And the call of the worms falls on the ear--
The worms are calling for Prometheus!
Oh then bow your head and speak thus:
What is the worth of joy which has not been nourished by a tear?
How right The Preacher--there is nothing new under the stratosphere.
There falls snow, there shines sun--and once more the grass will grow.
Where the beginning, where the end--the circle no seam does show.
Therefore be bold just once, and gratefully grasp the hand
Of death which like the gardener with a rosebush, will replant
You in another labyrinth, He tucks you in and smiles
Caressingly, like a mother tending to her child.
Yours is then the true the everlasting peace which is your due.
And what then do you lack, what more do you want, you coward, you?
The One On The Cross
From my grandfather's forests long ago
And black rafts floating in the Dnieper's flow-
Familiar to me the fragrance of wood.
The white gleam of springy shavings
Has often dazzled my eyes.
And how many times my heart has beaten with pride
After days of toil and victory over logs and boards,
Seeing finished the table, cabinet and buffet.
There is a joy in making beautiful, useful things
When caressing with hypersense the smoothness
Of molding, cornices and panelings,
Deeply the pleasure of creation sings
And heart beats with power.
But I also know the road to the marketplace;
Oh it is there I take my work, my beautiful toil,
My toil, my splendor, to the fat and boorish fool
And meekly accept a stone as my reward
Because the oppressor's first is iron hard;
The words of balm (they're disturbing too!)
How patiently the slender worm is waiting
Where he will open the fist and soften it.
But when the day wanes in silence and sorrow
As my life amidst the prosaic misery of the poor,
I'm embraced by the vast evening sadness,
Like a rock in the sea--
And save myself, I cannot;
When hot words burn on the palate--
And speak them, I cannot.
Oh then, I feel that I'm like you,
Carpenter of Nazareth.
I Am Like The Worm
If I am like the worm that coils in the dust,
Then am I also a creation of your mighty hand.
And dust is my life, the food that I love,
So I thank you, God, for this.
Only when the radiant sun flames out at me,
A leaf of the shade tree you gave Jonah, give me.
If I am like the flowing streams in the valley
Which you have sent on their eternal chase
With glitter and fire-run to the farthest sea
I lift my hands to you and I say:
I thank you for this.
I too have a goal, I too have a base.
If I am like the stone in a lonely path
For whom you have found a secure place on the earth,
How could I, my God, not thank you for that:
At least I am something with a role to play
And can be a place of rest for a beggar in need.
But if I am not like the worm and not like the
And am not even at last like the stone,
I still lift my hands to you, God, and I say:
I thank you for all:
Let me be as I am, let me be what I am.
But a sign of my being let stay when I'm gone.
My neighbor laughs at what I do,
My efforts are to him inane.
A man, he says, a man like you
Ought not spend his nights in vain.
A man worthwhile must sleep at night
For by day he follows the duty bell.
He strives not with words knit tight
To offer dreamers, dreams to tell.
You see says he I have a wife and child
And land and sheep and cattle.
I've not been by dreams beguiled
And my work has won the battle.
But you, he asks--what have you from your songs,
What get you from your reverie?
No comfort unto you belongs
And your death will be in poverty.
Trees die not alone.
They take along with them:
The violins of the winds,
The hymns of the nests
The mirrors of the sun,
The laughter of leaves,
And a delicate perfume.
They leave behind only the mystery
Of their unity and patience.
Trees die not alone.
Trees don't die like men.
In the silence of the night
The trees stand in melancholy calm.
Only a faint rustle of leaves.
On high---a star tremor.
Fireflies flash in the folded bed linen of the fields.
Silence streams from the moon,
Silence covers the world.
And from my heart there comes joy,
Joy that overflows in courage, praise
And expectation of honors.
How quick the flight to highest height;
The fall into deepest abyss.
For A Tree
Eighteen years he stood beside my window
And with the curiosity of a dog's nose
He probed with his shadowing leaves at the walls
"What's going on in there?"
He listened for the scratch of my pen, the creak of my chair.
"Something new on your desk?"
Often I felt that he rejoiced with me
Over a freshly-coined rhyme or a well-built stanza.
And sometimes late at night, he tapped at my window:
"Go to sleep, fool,
Nothing will come of it anyway"
How amazing was the place where he began
From under iron gratings near a cellar stair
He had emerged, a delicate sapling with one bud as a cap
Humbly trembling in the wind
As if he were asking of the world
He never grew at all in height.
Only in breadth, contrarily, a cripple right from birth.
Each year a new bough, a new deformity,
More branches--more monster;
Octopus-like, he bent and broke around him
Steel, stone and concrete,
Till he saw me through the window
And entrusted his life to me.
And after the iron he had overcome
There were so many monkey-quick climbing children.
So many hooks holding long lines of laundry,
So many carved names, dates and little hearts--
Albums of innocent young loves
And now, when I look at the shattered whiteness of the broken trunk
With the saffron-yellow ring in the center
I can hardly remember that he ever bloomed at all.
I saw him in despair
When the blue silk of evening enfolded us both
In white deep nights I would hear him sighing through the frost
"It goes badly for me, near one."
I saw him in a joyous mood
When April besprinkled him with life
Breathing upon him diamond bright warmth;
As I would open the window
He would blow in a breath
Of lilac sweetness from his heart's core,
"All for you, I have no one else."
I never even knew his taxonomic name
Or from what genus he came,
From which Gehenna, which oasis.
Eighteen years--just think--
Not only his
But a great portion of my life too,
With one thunderclap--null.
Today, I haven't wound my watch,
I skipped two meals
And never took the pipe from my mouth.
Audio in English
Audio in Yiddish
Bull In The Snow
A bull slipped out of his stall one night
Into the white, moonlit world
He could go where he liked. He was free.
The gate closed with a scraping sound;
His ear twitched at the noise.
Was there someone about who might stop him?
No one? Then he could go-
Maybe he might even run?
He would go to the cow who had called to him.
What a voice she had--with a heartbeat in it
And something else--the flavor of the warm bran.
Just wait--it would all be worthwhile.
Snow falls steadily in a mysterious silence.
Snow upon snow--endlessly, ceaselessly
And tickles his flanks
As did long ago the broad motherly tongue
On his delicate calf's body.
Now the snow grows in height from below.
White hills slow his steps
A switch of the tail
A stamp of the mighty feet.
Each foot in a separate grave.
But it's strange--
He can't see the path.
There is only--nothing!
Not earth, not sky, not barn.
Only snow and clouds.
Low in the sky hangs a yellow moon.
The snow will pull it down,
It will fall on his head
Soft as a bale of hay.
He whips the snow with his tail--nothing!
His horns stand ready.
He'll pierce the enemy--where is it?
He shakes his head till it aches.
Even the little bell on his neck will not ring.
All wrapped in softness and white
He faces the Almighty head on.
Not a move.
Not forward, not backward.
Snow covers even the hot, sweaty buttocks,
Tops even the mane of hair.
The eyes shoot rage, fear and anguish.
The nose melts holes in the snow.
A last growling below:
He is completely covered.
Only the two ears stick out
Like two frozen doves.
Don't look out the window at night when it's raining,
There is such a sadness that can stream through the panes,
And there is such a truth-too strong to be grasped--
In autumn by the window at night when it rains.
As slow and pointed as an old man's sermon
Uncoils actuality in the steady gray light,
And your old heart which was stronger than iron,
Now longs for a woman and whisky this night.
But there is no such woman, and no such liquor.
Facts of time past speak so much clearer.
You're a battered top hot, a broken old cylinder,
That once was a king's, on the head of a beggar.
And the poor puzzled heart is still fluttering-
Lost in a distant phantasmagory;
While out there your life is lying in ruin
An imp laughs in the window--memento mori.
Your eye has more than once glittered with tears
And often your doom with a smile entertains.
But strange how helpless a man can become
In autumn by the window at night when it rains.
Far, far distant from the moon,
And deeper than the sunken rain,
Is gone the spring,
Taking with it everything.
Now it is autumn in cool copper.
The ravages of autumn are full and deep;
Chill damp breath of gardens after rain
Slicing over bronzed meadow and hill.
Pale amber glittering on the bare trees--
Bemottled like bursting bubbles.
Completely gone is gleam of green;
The sweet rhythm of the insects.
Silenced-the broad forest melodies
Dead is the holy anthem.
The yellow moon meditating in the sky
Gazes sadly into the silver water.
Sorrow streams over the naked earth.
Lonely is the night.
I see now that the end is near--
He has not left anyone off the list,
Only the guilty are released.
Is that hellfire that I hear?
God, is that your world's boundary?
I would fly there on antelope feet
Taking along only a bittersweet
Armload of fragments in my haste
--What is left of a profaned Decalogue:
The ancient psalms; some of Dostoevsky,
Van Gogh's blood-red light of day;
The weeping flute of Debussy
And a song of Moishe-Laib's--master poesie,
Already decaying into dirt.
Tossing away the key of my front door
As one throws a kiss to a beloved wife
Free and rich I'll depart from life.
Nor will I need to add to my adieu
That I never will miss any of you.
Silver On The Roof
The man who visits often in my home, coming right in
Like a winter wind, and greets me as "Herr Poh-ett",--
Has found out that I don't know Latin,
And that I don't always grasp what he's said.
My visitor resembles the solitary one of Amsterdam*
That certain "noble" branch of my own stem,
(He is lily-pale as if he lung-disease had fought),
And though I cherish and love the light of a thought
When my visitor politely said that he was sorry that I clung
To Yiddish--"an impoverished tongue"--and offered proof,
I looked at him as one would look at dung,
And at the deep silver sparkling on the winter roof.
And while he was praising a poem of mine
Comparing it to Pope's "Essay on Man,"
I was thinking how good is the cut, and how fine
That the hate in my eyes was so easy to scan.
* Spinoza who was excommunicated by the Jewish
community of Amsterdam
White gleams the East wall
And in the center shines the seven-armed Menorah;
Seven cool spheres shoot fiery remembrances
Of pastoral glories.
Incandescence pierces every dark temple corner.
Light shrieks, light tears every quiet dream filament.
Deep organ-shudder trembles on the cold-polished marble.
The oil-smooth song of the white-clad women's choir rises softly to the
And hovers like a weary butterfly over a dying fire.
There is the fragrance of violets in the autumnal
Elegant tango dancers magnetically gesture.
But from the carved columns hang the ruins of my Holy Day
Lost in the glistening creamy patterns.
Dark, melancholy eyes have worshippers
But their prayer are alien and lacking in sorrow.
Theatrically the cantor postures on the platform
Speaking eloquently about the "stiff-necked people," Yisroel,
Tremolos with oratorical voice and manicured finger:
"Fear not, O faithful servant. Jacob."
Black-frock-coated pseudo-Marranoes sit silent
With wife, child, bank books and curiosity
As if watching a bareback circus equestrienne
Throwing kisses and danger to the onlookers.
(Earlier, in their rich and cheerless homes,
They gave polite commands to the servants--
Proud black script on dazzling white cards
To be fastened to doors of offices and stores:
"Holiday. Closed till 6 PM today.")
On the Holy Ark stand two golden lions
With open jaws, their extended claws pointing to the "I Am."
Rest well, oh guardians; there is nothing left to guard.
Behind the Holy Curtain sounds only a deadly song,
And God sleeps in thick cubes of gold,
A sleep from which he will never awake.
The Last Flower Withers
To Becky (1922)
Under wet, heavy copper weep the trees,
In a delicate swoon bends the grass,
The rain has drenched the heart of the earth.
It is autumn, and I remind you, beloved,
That I hold the glowing light of my spirit
Ready for you, beautiful, dear one.
My light is fading.
Dust am I without you.
I wither in the darkness.
I am autumn sick.
Lighter of stars, bring me your healing potion--
I die of longing.
Leaden sky, fall on my head.
Why does one need a heart?
Even The Butterfly
And even the butterfly--
Which is carefree
It seems to me--
Will tell you
That life is never easy.
Live an hour, or to eighty,
It's all mixup and suffering.
Easier by far is his last fluttering;
In that moment
Of reaching eternal content--
He seeks not even a grass pillow for his head
As a heavy raindrop strikes him dead.
I will put on my newest clothes,
And tame my wild shock of hair
And if I can find one, who knows,
A cane may give the right air.
Then I'll go and look for landscapes and views
Exactly like Heine's and Milton's muse
Provided for them. How I long
To compose a nature song
In true celebration of her allure,
No longer to be the "Laureate of the Poor,"
Without sparkling gems, cooing doves,
Or spring flowers. But the one God above
Knows that everything I set down
Is drawn from a frosted windowpane.
What the poet finds in his heart
Is the only subject of his art.
From no exalted lineage have I come,
And with exalted ones I refuse to go.
So when the final call will come,
I will be with those I know.
With the frightened and the mute,
With those condemned to die,
Imploring eyes wide open
Their sadness soaring to the sky.
Then take our blood and pour it out--
Into the cold, cold earth it goes.
Blood with seed-grain stir about
And a wonder-harvest grows.
Thus always will the earth awake,
And they who thus our blood consume
Must then a blessing also make
For us who proudly helped it bloom.
Of An Outsider's Life
Life came and rapped upon my door
Not knowing whom he was looking for.
But when he spoke his tone was dire:
--Lives he here who was afire?
--Was afire? And if yes, what then?
--If yes, my friend, I must ask you when
You'll pay what's due for time gone by.
--Oh my rich, beloved life--I cannot lie.
I have nothing left to give you back.
True, of good things there was no lack.
Though I guarded them--they wore out.
Life clapped, and there was a thundercrack.
--"Plead not; my partner with the almanac
Demands: it's time, it's time you paid your fare."
And then he was not there.
Since then I've walked with measured tread
Knowing not where my steps have led.
Smoothing the dust of earlier days,
Avoiding women and the marketplace.
And what I see, and what I hear
Wells from deep within the sphere.
And somewhere there is a joy and light,
But around me only a grimmer plight
And also love--but more of hate--
And on that, too, my payments late.
Is The Victor
Sing not to God through Psalms--
Your own text discover
Raw as a wound and thin as wind;
You will see God through a film of tears--
No one ever sees him clearly.
A sign that you will be heard--
You will kiss the earth;
And you'll become light as a myrtle-bough
And carefree as a man about town,
And love will grow like fruit on the trees,
And you'll be rich--a secret millionaire.
But till they will carry you to the holy place
You must always remember--
"Never again to bring that foolish word--
Victory--to your lips."
On A Sunday Evening
So much have I anguished during my life
Over my doubly-dark I-fate and tribe-fate,
That I can allow myself to laugh
At my "congenial" neighbor,
Who tries to re-make me
With Zoroastrian theology.
Bringing his little book of Yoga, he comes.
Giving no sign of what he has in mind.
Slowly the wheels begin to grind
And his zeal to pound the drums.
Already I can see: a deep grave stands ready
For my mimosa-delicate Sunday evening mood.
The start--foul breath delivers a first cannonade
(Victims have the least to say)
Then a dull army of words on parade:
"One must look into this little book
With a pure heart and wonder-seeking eyes
As did our grandmothers with their Tseneh-Ureneh*
Only then will you truly understand
What is God and what is Man,
What is brother-sun and sister-moon
Ay the little book, the little book."
I say nothing--but I'm primed as one about to
Seeing this he's silent for just an instant as when a gun misfires--
But then full speed ahead!
At last I say: "My dear neighbor,
Please don't be angry,
But I would like to ask you
Where is your proof--may I know?
After Francis of Assisi,
The Koran and the Bible,
Did they still slaughter Jews?
And if they could read the Yogi
Would onions smell like orchids?
Will bald headed men grow new hair?
And tigers and hyenas--will cotton be their fare?"
He pushes away the tea,
Buttons up his coat
And marches off;
He has, says he, no more to say than me.
*Tseneh-Ureneh: the so-called "Women's bible." A Yiddish
version of the Pentateuch done in morality fable style.
He will come from a distant place-
A dark-skinned Homo Novus
Bearing a spark of our ancestry
But without beard and oratory.
And in fewest, clearest words--
Lightning script on evening sky
For all to read who have an eye,
He will say:
"I am not sent by God to be your leader,
I come from the last scorched sanctuary
Of all who have lost heavily."
Fighting a sob as he speaks,
Biting his lip till it bleeds.
"Be warned," he will thunder--
"We must begin anew,
We must not lose,
Let us play seriously, with the fluency
Of children in the nursery,
For just one chance is left to us
And the cards are poor."
And what he will not clearly say,
The wind will through the world convey.
And for him they will spend their lives
Speaking the highest superlatives
To honor his name.
Everywhere they will spread his fame.
All will praise and praise him
If it should come to pass that he can
Bring to an end what Isaiah began.
The curtain falls--
A bright blade severs outstretched necks;
A thousand eyes extinguished;
Colors run, sounds tremble in fading away.
Awakened rattlesnakes hiss.
Tucked in, cheated children
Are too ashamed to cry.
The Apples Fall
Before the apples start to pummel the ground
And before the pine trees shed their cones
And the cold whistling winds begin--
Provide yourself with a small book of poems.
Bitter is he who is naked and hungry in the winter.
Bitter is he who sings no songs
In the long, cold winter.
I love the simple word
That weights the pen,
Whose taste is sharp and tart
And shows its origin.
I knead it out like dough,
Forge it straight and strong,
Guard it like an eye;
A diamond for a song.
Bite Of Conscience
Fearsome hour of remorse--
How stern is your coming.
Marble walls of palaces,
Iron bars of dungeons,
You break through them all.
You bring back what must not be remembered,
And becloud all that had given hope
Till grief grows high and rigid as the mountains.
And what are tears,
And what are pleas,
Against the mouth of conscience
Which bites like a cobra,
Till you kiss the enemy
And embrace the foe.
The soul, like a feather, all white,
And falls into the arms of God.
Do You Need Him?
Please don't embarrass Tevye, that neighbor of mine
And don't ask him to come to your party!
He's honest enough, but his pants have a shine,
A tactless fellow, and he's never been hearty.
So do you really need him?
His coat is old, his nails--see how black!
And he's just gotten up from a sickbed.
He can't carry a tune, his dancing is slack,
And deal the cards--it's as if he were dead.
So do you really need him?
Since first I knew him, a good many years,
He's preferred to lie buried and live like a mole.
And then all of a sudden his true self appears
And he shouts that he hates us and the town as a whole.
So do you really need him?
He's not such a fool as at first you might think.
He'll sit there so quiet and then with a laugh
He'll say to you something that carries a sting
And then when you look--why, he's cut you in half.
So do you really need him?
Now, he isn't all bad--only ask and he'll give
You the food from his plate--and not listen to thanks.
But like a volcano his rage comes alive
When he hears the cant of a sycophant!
So do you really need him?
But most of all, let me give you this warning-
Don't prate of your wisdom or philanthropies.
If you do he'll storm till next morning
Or commit some other breach of the peace.
So do you really need him?
If I had the power and voice of a genius
I would firmly speak forth
(Without any pomp or fuss)
About those who were only half-here.
Those who for only a little while cast their
Shadows in the sun, or glinted golden
Like fireflies in the grass.
No voice is heard that says
Why they enter not into the pageant
Of sperm and microbe
Although they too have paid well
With s e l f . . .
And why not?
--Didn't even care to ask.
In memory of the Poet, Moishe Laib Halperin
Gracious angel, clad in white and violet,
How do you tear the heart out of a poet?
Do you cut it with a knife? Stab it with a pen?
Can you take a poet's heart and kill it there and then?
--I do not cut it with a knife. I don't stab
it with a pen.
I cannot take a poet's heart and kill it there and then.
I only end the dream that has winged its final flight
And cold becomes the heart like the fields at night.
Gracious angel, clad in white and violet,
What do you do with the famous poet
After you take the pen from his hands
Because his dream has no more strands
And the mourners and the knowers their sorrowing
And the tears still fall like feathers on a stone.
Do you grapple with the coffin? Cover it with loam?
Is his fate the same that must to all others come?
--Oh I do not touch the coffin. I don't cover
it with loam.
His fate is not the same that must to others come.
I only take his soul across a wind-bridge in the air,
So each generation can bring him back alive from there.
Man In The Setting Sun
If a man steps over the threshold of his house
And feels as if he is already in his grave
By more than half, and can't just then
Cry out: save me--his voice breaking,
Is it for this that the strong-arm men with golden teeth
Ran after him like dogs after a bone,
All because the man about whom I speak
Was accursed in being a poet
Amidst a people treading indifferently on
Tragic songs like chickens in dung
And had loved to gaze at the evening sky
Where all the light of the world is gathered together
For the death and cremation of the setting sun.
But when this man lifts his hands like an angry baboon
And lets them fall on his own breast
Like hailstones falling on a rosebush---
Then where, say I, can we find a hero with a rope
Who will tie up the man who weepingly beats
At his own heart, at his own heart.
Otherwise one might suppose that God has chosen
The heart of the man as a drum for the world
So that the tsadik, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem
Should hear the sound and weep because of him.
(in dedication to his wife Becky)
Women, beautiful and ripe,
Weighed down by the burden of love,
I see you imperiled by the light of knowledge:
Every fiber quivering with exotic longings,
With your eyes painting dreams and prayers
For yourselves and haughty fools--
Secretly pairing with penniless poets
In dim alleys astray from the boulevards
With full passion and piety you spoke
In metaphor and jest--
But being possessed the heart will burst in your breast,
Oh women, all burdens are heavy
But that of love is heaviest.
When teeth are sharper than reason,
And blood is truer than chastity.
With what honeyed splendor and fanfare
Is played for you that first time
The colorful song of bold seducer.
And afterwards, late, the comforting pity of God,
The shield against further temptation
Till the hair grays
And the last flute-note of autumn plays...
What Will You Do With The Bequest?
(These translations are my answer to the question)
Dear little boy,
What will you do when my time will come
And I will belong to the grass of ancestry,
And will not be here to kiss and fondle you--
A Homo Novus--a new kind of Jew?
What will you then do with the imposing bequest
Which I will leave to you here in these open shelves?
Jewels for the weekday, pearls for holy day and Sabbath;
Generations have stored a treasure here.
What will you do then with the old, brown folios:
"The Duty of the Law," "The Life of Man," "Righteous
Measures," and "Talmudic Legends,"
And thin, thin books of verse--presents to me
From Yiddish princes, kings.
My heart tells me that you will not need them
Even though (of this I am sure) you will seek
Their treasure in other accents, other tongues.
And one day, the Junkman will come by--a Jew
with side locks
Who (after a bath) looks like the King of Spades.
He will flood the streets with his nostalgic cry:
"Any rags, any bottles today?"
Call him in and ask him this:
Has he a good supply of sturdy cord?
And he has not (God forbid) a rupture?
Can he carry a heavy load of culture?
Then show him your inheritance -- the finest paper!
And don't forget the souvenir in the cellar-
Your grandfathers thallis and tefillen
(So musty now that even the cat will not deign
To play with its tassels or toy with the ribbon);
Give a last caress to the smooth silk
As if you were closing my dead eyes
And help the Junkman load his wagon.
But before he goes, if you wish,
Tell him in fewest words--
Like ginger sweetening the air--
That you are a descended from princes:
Your granddad, a scholar and savant,
Your father a poet and recluse;
And their residue is wagonload
Which goes through fire to God.
Songs of a Bookworm To God I
Dimitri Karamazov was late in finding you--
Such a long and strange pathway did he take:
Past liquor, women and hard prison-bench
He pulled himself as if through walls of fire--
The holy coin-purse around his neck,
The half-righteous mocker of filial duty.
As if he carried an elephant on his back,
How many times up-down and how many times zig-zag?
After him, Alyoshinka and little Father Zossima.
And together -- the kisses and sobbing of a woman.
But Dimitri left and arrived alone.
Whoever wishes to can count his steps in red
As if barefoot over shattered glass.
How well he knew
To you one must go alone
As we swallow with the throat
As we kiss a women
And when he reached you on all fours
Who had ever heard such "Praise of the Lord".
Such a joy in him when he saw you:
Here, all is returned to you
Yours--and mine too, whole and fire-clean,
And he spoke high and clear
And he spoke strong and open like a tree-crash.
Oh, I hear even now his mighty tenor
Like an echo of the Sinai-thunder.
Of A BookWorm To God II
My Three Graces
If I possessed Beethoven's baton
I would compose the most joyful lamentation,
I would build a three-sided turntable of amber
Bedraped in soft, translucent lavender
And in the center, a black pedestal --
So that on it can sit my three most beloved graces:
The sensual soul of Emma Bovary
The tortured Tess of the D'urbevilles
And the heavenly-hearted Anna Karenina
And they shall sing the song of immorality
High-great-deep song to you.
And then your answer to them all,
Pointing to the enigmatic deeps
No escape at all
(the Prophet of Tarshish also didn't run very far-
By his shirt tails did you bring him back)
And from there we begin
Step after step
And at the barrier we stand still:
And when sorrow will bite with all its teeth,
The kerchief to the mouth,
And we are silent;
Now--here--one must not applaud.
Late at night -- the silence and the pen,
The polished beauty of a stanza
Will more than once lead your spirit astray,
And like a desert-wanderer entranced by chimeras
You will see how impetuously Pegasus flies
With the laurel wreath for your heroic song
To be sung on Sabbath, Holy Day and Monday;
The deepest secrets, which no one has ever known
Will like bubbles mirroring the sun
Shine thousandfold bright in dazzling play
And suddenly--darken and vanish away.
And you remain, after all, the fool,
The laughable one -- (and loved by me, therefore) --
Like the penguin from the isles of silver
Which my greedy neighbor has brought here
To torment, to torment, and then to watch it die --
Such a wonderful, singing death --
Although it cannot sing -- but dying it knows well.
Oh, my dear believer,
How late comes that long-awaited consolation --
Did you know, it to seeks to be redeemed?
A lifetime long it struggles and shouts:
I am here! I am here!
But you didn't hear it -- you thought it far away;
Only later when the silver - gray years have come
Like a matriarch -- neat, serene and silent,
While the splendid, abundant consolation
Which she offers you now with open hands --
Payment for everything -- you no longer need it at all.
You have enough already.
Does one need a bridge over a dried - out stream?
But then is when you can understand
That one must never be allowed
To weary of hacking at the hard stone
(Like a sinner before God
Sobbing in ecstatic grief
Beating his heart with his fists)
Till the barely audible echo far away
Answers, answers after all
With a shadow, with only a bare idea of word:
I am here
I am here
But till then, dear believing fellow man,
If someone mentions immortality to you
Give only the faintest little smile, and--be silent,
Oh, suffering one, be silent.
As silent as the weak-winged penguin
(So much like myself in my own cage)
Because he cannot fly
And cannot sing.
And never could.
And that neighbor of mine drums at him and shouts:
"Sing! Why in the hell don't you sing!"
Audio in English
An open window, sunlight and lilacs.
A table covered by a bright cloth.
A saucer filled with raspberries and sweet cream.
Before the eyes a volume of the Kabbalah--
(Only a pretext--he reads another book)
A young girl moves with a model's grace
In the rhythm of a maiden's blood;
A leap and a passionate kiss.
Laughingly she calls him "Brute."
Wipes from his lips her rouge.
And as a perfect final measure,
A sip of muscatel.
That this is a perfect picture,
Both Omar and I know well.
The other day I said something sharp
And thought that nobody would listen,
But when the busybodies began to carp
I realized that the dough had risen.
But I meant another one. I'd wanted to say
The truth about the fat parasite who
Still prepares himself for the day
When he will become king of the hill.
See how sanctimoniously he prates
As if his heart were honey sweet,
Points to me with assurance--states
That I aim a gun at all I meet.
My soft word-and hear the uproar,
It almost makes the whole earth crack.
My heart warns: when the skunk stands at your door,
Be ready to deal with the attack.
How I would like to see you now, Zayde.
How I would like to see you at your prayer book.
Your white head swaying in the shaded circle,
Your bone white hands joined to the book
And in your eyes--radiant streams of faith
Which mock the very roots of my own beliefs.
Half the night is done, stillness and the moon.
The fragrance of greenery and summer growth.
The neighbor's dog sleeps peacefully in his kennel.
Sweet is the aftertaste of the fat cholent* bones.
Barns full of cattle. Cages full of chickens.
Singing winds. Silver light floods the garden.
Universal plenty, security and peace.
A star falls into a shimmering circle.
The summons of the first rooster crow.
Zayde takes his accustomed steps.
I see a world, a world of ascetics in thallis
Rings of sorrow, rings of joy -- and under all a base.
Overwhelming sadness emerges from Zayde's night prayer.
Sorrow rises, sorrow tugs at my heart.
A thousand fears lift me from my bed.
I rush over and awaken my sleeping mother,
"Tell me, why is Zayde crying?"
Zayde, were you not crying over me and my fate?
Did you by the candle light envision my flickering life?
Could you have known then that you were weeping over my destruction?
Boring idols, cleverly made, are my support.
I don't celebrate with bread crusts.
An alien, desolate pagan holiday.
I'm driven by the wine and bright lights of merry hotels
And the street woman brings consolation and bordello love.
* The stew traditionally prepared in advance of
the Sabbath, and kept warm in the oven for the Sabbath meal
There is no longer a lyre.
Rust has long since devoured the strings.
If Harlequin still stands at the window
He has become like a mummy whom no one caresses.
In the darkened hall, in the wine light of the
Dust hovers over the soft divans
And works itself into the upholstery folds.
The rose white hands of the gentlewomen
Hang downward-fringed in silk --as they
Yearn for the spirit of a gentle Mozart.
But the bell, the trumpet, and the drum,
Shriek out in rhythmic salvoes.
Let those who wish to, yammer and weep.
It's all the same to the leaden sky.
There is no high priest or even a lamb in the
The priest's breast plate of divinity has long ago melted away.
The eloquence of Jesus pours itself out --
A clown, if he wants to, can sound like a Moses.
A whore gives alms to the saintly hermits of the Ganges.
Everywhere the knife; and not only oxen are the victims.
Who will hear the cries of those who suffer?
And who will block off their shattering roar
As blood heats up the steel cold prairie,
And the grinding of hills, rising and falling?
Ballad of Four
I saw a hen swallow a worm-and then-
A ferocious pit bull tear the hen apart.
I split the dog's head with a stone
Just to ease my vengeful heart.
Someday we four will stand before the Lord
Demanding of Him a stern decree --
Choose one of us to reward -
And execute the other three.
His head he'll bow. His hands he'll fold.
He'll gaze at us with deep compassion.
"But all four of you are good as gold,
All fully equal under my sun."
We'll refuse to hear a single word.
Sullen, silent--an ungrateful crew.
Then softly he'll be forced to add -
"How I wish I had not made any of you."
Picture on the Wall
On my wall in a gleaming frame
A portrait of a noble lady holds sway.
I don't know her origin or her name
Or who painted her so splendidly.
Seems to me she smiles-but perhaps not -
Under that seeming smile there seeps
Something else-no words seem right -
I wonder if she smiles not, but really weeps.
I can't understand why I'm staring
At her image as if she's real;
After all it's only paper and coloring -
But I swear it's her breath I feel.
Enthralled by the sweet bend of her neck
And caught by the force in her glance,
I feel the whole world should be at her beck,
Even the wall seems to sway in a dance.
Look how her mouth seems to move;
Is there not a wave of her hand?
Did I hear a choked sob from above?
I hold myself still where I stand.
I must now put an end to this game
And the power of that brimming eye
So that I won't end as a tame
Victim--engulfed by my Lorelei.
Am in Love with Poetry
I'm in love with poetry and its beauty.
Immortal is the word of the true poet
And along with Keats I believe it's my duty
To infuse beauty and truth into every sonnet.
But I can tell whenever the agile, fine
Pen of the poet starts deviating
Even slightly from the straight line,
As well as when his sharp knife in creating
Cuts deep and blood overflows the site
Of a well crafted stanza. Oh, then, how his chest
Will swell--poetic truth must excite
Like the ripe beauty of a woman's breast.
But when the soft lies start to flow -
Lies that sound so sweet and fair,
I send them flying out the window
To mingle with the dust in the air.
It May Be
And it may be that there is after all a God
in the sky,
But whose commandments we know not how to obey.
Whose ears our yammer cannot reach,
And whose vision cannot our world survey.
And it may be that Messiah came long ago
But we just don't know that He has shown his face,
Because where we pray, and where we weep
There is never even one sign of His grace.
And it may be that if He would come down from
And were to observe all that has occurred
That he would like a mother weep at the sight
And beg our forgiveness for what we've endured.
And it may be that there is such a God here
Who sees not, and hears not. And though fierce is His will
He knows not on whom His blessings should fall,
And knows not on whom His anger to spill.
the Strangest Thing
It's the strangest thing, I just can't understand
Nor could I even with the Vilner's* wisdom,
Understand how a well intentioned God
Who looks with compassion on even the worm
Could take a poet of the highest caliber --
One who swallows misery poems as if they were brandy
Who feels as if any day they might lynch him
And views himself as a blinded Samson --
Thrown like a splinter in the wind into an obscure corner
And be told, "Here you will write what Kronos will erase
Here you will sense, feel and imagine,
But what you most desire you will never find."
In addition, to be granted long years--
And yet be expected to sing the joy of life.
* The sage, The Vilner Gaon
Oh I was a bright and agile lad --
My grand dad was so proud of me,
Knew Gemara at the age of nine
And swam the Desna easily.
What a brave fellow I was then--
Fought with the strongest peasant boy,
But even more I loved to dream
And watch the clouds rush by.
But when I heard the shrieking birds
I stood transfixed by mystery--
And though I couldn't say the words
I knew I had dreamt Isaiah's prophecy.
I couldn't have known that words emerge
Wildly from a cold and alien star
And first must be blooded, and then nursed
With one's own blood from afar.
Death comes confidently into the homes of the
Like a guest who's invited -- he doesn't knock at the door,
Nor does he hurry, and he doesn't stay long.
He takes with strong hands what has been prepared for him.
Yet at the first salvo of the opened throat
Which streams with yammer in the impoverished home
And accompanies him through wasteland and desolation to the heart of God.
He then stands bewildered and bowed in remorse;
For that reason he always wears black
Avoiding both consolation and brightness.
But sucklings in their mother's laps
And infants in the cradle
Acquire at that time clear, farseeing eyes.
And see him in colors of the rainbow --
For the first time they hear the call of truth
Which is eterna -- like the earth and the sky.
the Blind Man Sees
We don't know what the blind man can see -
We just can't describe his view.
Even I, the poet, must reluctantly agree
It's more than I can hope to do.
"Never waste pity on his domain,"
An elderly oculist once said to me --
"Not worth the dust underneath his cane,
They only play at their puppetry."
Take a good look--there he stands,
His faint smile giving him away.
He holds the sunlight in his hands --
A separate world where he holds sway.
Struggling, yet seeming not to care.
His faltering gait-you may think he's addled.
But you don't know what goes on in there--
He doesn't need your help -- his horse is saddled.
Too many dreams, and too much that's real-
His mind is rich with yeasty leaven.
Yet often at ease -- polished steel --
Sprouting wings that fly to heaven.
Stubborn, he leads a hazard filled life-
We all at times must fail to win.
So many years--so full of strife--
Offer to help and you'll feel it then.
If you chance to see him and extend a greeting
There in the jungle of the city.
Take his arm and say something--
Say it--but never open the bag of pity.
Not poorer than you--he's richer even.
Best not play with phony words.
Look for him if you get to heaven.
You'll find him there among the guides.
Nearer, nearer, silent as the worm
And not demanding as he leaves this shore,
Comes the great victor at last to you,
Gracious One, open the door.
After his triumph in the spreading night,
Grant him the rest he is pleading for.
He kneels in anguish before your might,
All-powerful One, open the door.
Don't reject his cries as an empty plea.
Judge him with the mercy that is his due.
Give his sighs to the wind, his tears to the sea,
And his innermost heart, to the source, to you.
Don't keep him waiting, you above all--
Look at his hands, stop their tremor,
Hear his yammer on this side of the wall-
Merciful One. Open the door.
Can Travel Far and Wide
You can travel far and wide
And hear out the cleverest advice,
You still won't be able to decide
What you need and where happiness lies.
Since all you need is already there--
It pours like wine from the spout,
But as the Talmudist did declare,
You don't know what you can live without,
You do need a sweat stained shirt of linen.
And feel no shame at calloused hands.
Flee from favors as you would from sin,
And pay the price that a smile demands.
A flat and raw bit of land,
A strong horse and a clean stall.
A heart that's ready for merriment,
And tears that pour from a deep well.
They had invited me, so I came.
A distant stranger from a thousand miles away,
Armored in solitude
Like a buffalo stuck with arrows.
So much light dazzled my eyes
Pompous, stiff civility,
Wherever you sit is eiderdown.
Wherever you look there is a rainbow.
But I am the sharpest contradiction here,
A speechless fool.
Later, the gestures grow softer--
The bald heads like spotted cheese
Are drawn to the rosy décolletages,
White flesh sends forth a lilac fragrance
And comes alive like fireflies in the dark.
Thin smiles on carmined lips;
Tenor-pitch laughter--like actors in a play.
On the red mahogany table cards are tossed.
Then I am the first on antelope feet
And run out with my frozen,
I am back once again
With my Emily, my Henry David
And my well loved Marcel.
What a fool I am--
I knew before I went
That I didn't belong there.
Oh white night, take me, take me;
Mix me together with your pure dream.
They say that I am alone and poor.
Hell, there is so much silver in the moon,
So many diamonds in the sky.
Isn't that so, my heart?
Not true. Not good.
Tears come again.
to the Conqueror
Oh, it is meet and fitting that I now sing my
song of praise to you
And place upon your head the laurel wreath
Because I have discovered that I have already reached
The highest rung of failure
For all time and on all fronts.
But what will you do with your victory, gigolo?
A talented, peril-surviving flea--even he
Can hide himself in the darkness
And digest the blood he stole from an Atilla
Who had dallied with a lovesick nun
A flea also sometimes puts his life in hazard
When fate sends temptation into his path
(Hey, everybody must either destroy or build)
And he can leap--even unto death itself.
But what will you do with your victory, gigolo?
And what will you do with the laurel wreath
Just as a tree throws away its blossoms
Because--it doesn't need them?
Cain, I still call you brother-
It was our mother gave you birth.
You are accursed, and I am accursed
By my dark voice from the earth.
The blood you spilled has poisoned
Your bread on sea and on land.
Come and rest, give me rest, my brother.
Rest your scythe and your hairy hand.
The sign, God's grace on your brow,
Not red, and is now sweet and clear.
Fall on me like the dew, my brother
And on the white narcissus, so dear.
Hard fall the steps in the frosty break of day
Gray-white like the wintry breath of a horse,
Sometimes Death comes fully expected to those who have long awaited him.
Oh, then Death does not miss anything
Since what he takes has long been set aside for him.
Then, by chance, a few wise old people
Who would be standing anyway daily in the steet
Are the only escorts of the coffin--
And they go with heads bowed low.
But swiftly, like a deer at the gallop
With wide and shining eyes
Brown gold in glimmering October
Will sometimes come death
To one who has just taken the first step.
Oh, then has he---Death--already missed everything.
Behind him the earth falls apart
With jutting, vibrating seeds
Teasing him--ripe red grapes
On swaying tips of the vines
Before an array of hungry, leaping foxes.
OF THE BACKYARD--1
With the rising sun
He climbs onto the bench
Where he sleeps away the summer days.
He is big and strong. There's a bite wound on the nape of his neck,
And under the chin a fold of fat.
True to his kind he lives for danger
Pursuing females ferociously.
His owner calls him Bonaparte.
But now he is sated and lazy.
For pleasure he stretches,
Lifts his head at a chirp from above-
An ancient dream flight.
How high is the branch?
How many leaps to the nest?
Closes his eyes and forgets--
It looks as if he sleeps.
Only his tail twitches a bit,
And circles forth a warning to the mutt
Who seems to be creeping toward him.
"Guard your eyes, brother,
If you value your light."
OF THE BACKYARD--2
Moonlight silent they appear,
The two teenagers.
Lovesick and distraught,
They shove the garbage pails aside
Sit down on the bench
Eyes shining in the dark.
I see them through their voices,
Feel them through the windowpane.
She sits on his lap and weeps---
A muffled flute.
"My father doesn't know. He drinks.
My stepmother knows and beats me.
Calls me a slut.
I get dizzy when I stoop.
I can't sleep.
I 'm sick all the time."
She puts his hand on her belly.
"Feel how big.
A chocolate doll is dancing there,
Honey sweet as you.
Pete, what will we do with the doll
When I get out of the hospital?"
SING AN OLD FASHIONED SONG
My song must be
simple, old fashioned and plain,
Using just the words of my ghetto family.
I'll drag that oxen heavy fate of mine
Straight along the path laid out for me.
Let them say, "How slavishly he pursues
And serenades the lowly of the earth."
Since over my fate there's a light that glows
Like a diamond gleaming in the dirt.
Any harsh judgments I willingly accept
And the scolding of critics I gladly bear
Like a sated suckling who has slept,
Serenely I'll grow and in due course mature.
I only want my old fashioned song to be
As full as an overflowing pail-
Then it won't matter at all to me
If the youngsters should say I fail.
For they, too, spread dust. Musty with age
Can be the notions of the cleverest youth.
Oh, God, I ask only that my songs on the page
Always be rooted firmly in truth.
KNOW IT ALL
"What is poetry, and don't poets always
The Youth with the Golden Pen demanded to know.
He wants me to believe that he can always see
Beauty and light, even where the shadows flow.
"Could be. You may be right," was
"It all depends on how and where you look," I said.
"One man is anguished when the last leaves die,
But another dances at a friend's death bed."
The youth listened, but could not comprehend
My words, although they're plain as A-B-C.
And with a nudge, he said, "My friend,
That's a lie. I, too, write poetry."
"Colleague," I said, "We must
take great care
with words, if we hope for poetic verity.
A poem can make a pig shine like a star,
But no pig has ever written poetry."
LOVE THE PLAINEST WORDS
I love the plainest words
That give weight to my pen,
Whose bite is quick and sharp
And show their origin.
I knead them out like dough,
Forge them straight and strong,
Guard them like an eye-
They give power to my song
VISITOR FROM ELDORADO
When the villagers suddenly hear the clanging sound
Of the bell that hangs at the farthest edge of town
They will at first believe that a toddler at play
Has done this with a toy that a junkman threw away.
But then they see that isn't a child who stands
And pulls the rope, but a bearded man with a blacksmith's hands
Who shouts as if there had been a murder
During a horse theft at the fair.
And he'll show them his Eldorado gun-so small-
But what a bullet it shoots. They'll be in awe
And say, "The man from Eldorado has the right
To come here and wake us in the night."
Speaking from the heart he says,"I had to come,
Leaving behind my sacks of gold, my home,
My beloved, and all I hold dear-
So strongly I was drawn to come here-
As a drunk is drawn to the smell of the saloon,
The lecher to the maiden, to the cloister the nun."
And he will emphatically stress
That he suffers from no mental illness.
They will kneel down to him like Turks before the Sultan
In deep respect, seven times up and down
And stand marveling with wonder in their gaze.
But he says, "I want nothing-and I need no praise."
GOD-AND THEN DIE
(With acknowledgement to Job)
Worship God and obey His will,
Say the prayers and keep every fast day,
Even though your anger is never still
And your world is in permanent decay.
Look to the heavens and be super frum,
Be kind to all and show them you care--
(And you just a fly on the kettledrum
Banging out a Wagnerian fanfare)
Grow yourself a rabbi's full beard,
The Sayings of the Prophets are yours to prate,
Insist there's nothing to be feared-
Justice wins and the truth will liberate.
For your final act of Atonement
Paint a picture of your God--
And after spitting on it to show your intent.
Lie silent forever under the sod.
People, and Lands
Lambs, people and lands,
Large and small are tottering,
Bitter smiles of merchants,
And silence at the whore's weeping.
A table, a tablet and a quill,
Slow scratching and a thrill,
(Pegasus comes on rubber wheels-
One who knows better will smile.)
What else is left of life
Here in this bottomless night?
Beware of the deceptive light,
Gaze into the blue heaven
And build a card house for children.
Thus it has been, and always will be,
Even vivid dreams will become faint,
But those with young hot blood
Will capture them in words and paint.
With colors of the brightest hue
And words that are rare in use,
As if blind let them lead you.
And bless what others abuse.
Later on, the feelings of the sated one
Will dissolve in tears and cello
But a gay and young Othello
Will spread the Socratic poison.
To be a half-prophet is this old one's fate,
Expert in sorrow and a servant of slaves-
Trembling before the law--a candle in the waves,
Enduring till the time when the world is remade
With eyes that pierce the ocean and the earth,
Desiring nought, but seeing and hearing all,
Smiling like a figure in a church mural,
Till the past shall have its full rebirth.
Oh, heart with the knife still in it,
Perform the last miracle.Yes, it may burst apart
But staunch the stream of blood and start
On the final peace with seven strong locks protecting it.
Light and Thin
At your grave I stand, mother,
With lightened body, empty hands and head bowed down,
For respect to you, oh colossal one to whom all belongs.
I have saved two last tears,
And when they fall on your grave, mother,
I will become still lighter and thinner.
Let whosoever wishes to, put ballast on my shoulders
So that my eyes will bulge still further from my brow;
My last prayer through the blue halo
Will be heard by one else but you.
I have become light and thin, mother;
I want no God now, and no heaven.
I want only to sink into your soft grave.