Canto II: A Translation

Brian Diamond

Hang it all Yankev Glatshteyn!
There can be but the one Fairfax
but Fairfax and my Fairfax—

Impulsn fun gedank
             blitskike un rashik—
  blisak fun zun oyf meser-sharf!


And we saw
six yids walking in their black frocks
with the late Saturday traffic 
hardly moving, the children wearing wide
hats, not talking and nothing much moving
birds, strollers, babies crying
the smell of liver and boiled chicken, cabbage
lingering over a row of houses, flat roofs, bungalows
modestly built

farmakht dayn moyel
young woman with the skirt
past her ankles
married to the butcher who smokes
Pall Malls down to the filter
his teeth yellow, almost wax-like
the shul swarming 
and prayers thick as flies
And, out of nothing, a breathing
hot breath on my ankles

And it could be 300 years past
And they (that is the yids) were living under
the Polish kings
And they had their own schools and currency
And spoke in their own tongue
and on all issues very much separate
so that a man living and working
might never see a person from the next village
And would say the morning and evening prayers
but being (in fact) not religious in most regards
And they said this of economics:
that the money was collected and sent to the kings
and so long as the money was collected
then the people were left to their own devices
and things were good for almost four generations 

Wind over the soft dirt
an open lot
traces circles of peach and white
limestone or maybe shale
only traces of it left
where an old building used to stand

…that there shall be no war without profit (etc.)
and that night I came to the prayer house
watching oil pool 
like lily pads on the sidewalk
young teenagers dressed for cocktails
old men with white beards 
   bread crumbs on the table cloth 
kids screaming for their mothers
by the dim light of a cell phone
nothing seeming very sacred
Gut nakht, breyteh velt
groyseh, shtenkndikeh velt
         Not for you I slam shut the gate\

     the salt-rimed Pacific 
glazed over 
heaving itself against the rocky cliff
for how many thousand years now
    I am not certain
Lay myself down in a shallow hole
that is how I felt at least
and the economy not very good
many wars happening also
quite distant
  sweet smell of the nightshade
  blooming in a vacant lot
men adorned in the style of Polish nobles
Damn you world, your bitter culture.
Although all is devastated,
I submerge myself in dust 

And the Rebbe kisses the corners of his shirt sleeve
and plates of pickles, herring, some hot tea
passed along
under the watchful eye of an olive tree
living in a different time 
apart from all things modern 
a gut shabbes
very peaceful and…


Editor's note: This is part of a sequence of poems revisioning Ezra Pound's Cantos into Yiddish culture.