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Poetry: Avrom Sutzkever, trans. by Zackary Sholem Berger

1974 [Far Is Getting Closer]

Avrom Sutzkever
from Diary Poems
translated from Yiddish by Zackary Sholem Berger


Far is getting closer. After voyages, adventures,
freestyle on a sheet of paper underneath hawk’s shadow,
leave a twin—like day and night—of rhyming lines together
and let them be divided among all your young inheritors.

You say that’s not enough? Draw a third one from your heart
(why should she lie, orphanish, her little arms stretched out—
I mean the cat: who controls you, after all, but her?)
unless you’ve already left the cat some of your estate.

Of course you’ve seen the visions which no one else has seen:
a prayer quorum of ten stones, on tiny wings aloft
at breezy midnight’s vigil, lit by Yahrzeit candles (green)
and over them the gates of mercy which are no longer locked.

If you’ve handed out and given out your fortune, doled it out,
and paid on your own wounds the reckoned tax that’s only fair,
flee then to the desert, where the stars are parched without.
They’re drying out and going out. Water them with fire.

Ode to the Dove

(poem in 10 parts, 1954)
Avrom Sutzkever
translated from Yiddish by Zackary Sholem Berger



Dancer of mine, who are you? Were you given birth by a fiddle?
Under your dance my gardenish body’s dug up with a shovel.
She’s sick, the little one, lunatic in silvery nightshirt. Not rarely
Swimming away in cold plashing worlds while she’s waving.

My head is full of prescriptions to cure her heavenly fever.
Moonboy then fell in love (at the same time) with my lover.
Now I hurl spears like King Saul. The boy hid there among twigs.
You try to tie him in poems, and he shows you silver figs.

I order double pane glass to guard my joy from the men.
That’s how they’re whole like my love and doubly spotless. But then
She swallows them out of the panes, tricks with a beautiful gift.
Rather than making a temple, at moonedge her dancing feet lift.

Darling dove, tell the moon please not to burn up so hot.
Flying: teach that to the dancer. It’s something not everyone’s got.
Your reward from me is seeds, which everyone thinks is the best.
Don’t let her fall on the thorns. If she does, let her fall on my breast.


All rights reserved to Zackary Sholem Berger.

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