poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

 

NOSTALGIA

In the city of my birth,
a calm pervaded the millinery.
Black was the choice of men;
women wore gray everywhere.
White was seen not as variety, but as completion.

In the city of my birth,
no one could get lost.
Streets were as clear as the first geometry lesson;
visitors soon discarded their maps.
This was what our first fathers had intended.

In the city of my birth,
the curls of wigs stiffened; a second chin quivered.
In late night alleys hooded figures hurried to and fro.
In the morning it was clear that the upcoming years would not be easy.
This was how we understood revolution.

In our city people came to breathe deep.
They found in our halls a space to contemplate anew.
Here voices from above spoke in mild refrain.
Even the bullies paused under the sweep of our renowned arches.
Our name spread far and wide.

In the city of my birth,
strife was not unknown, but not encouraged.
Even the dogs understood this.
Many have speculated on our formula. Entirely to no avail.
Our love was called brotherly.

However there were those who were seduced by other cities,
drawn by brighter color, a more varied music.
We imagined we could simply transplant the legacy of our city
and that our role of emissary would be welcomed.
But the city of our birth refused to release its secrets.

We always praised the city of our birth.
We spoke of all that it had bequeathed us, never of ourselves as thieves.
Only in the moments before sleep did we sometimes
remember the final closing of the city gates behind us,
the intimate fury of their slam.

 


Kathy Keler
Effluvium

2000, 32" x 72", oil and alkyd on wood panel (2 sections)
see more work by Kathy Keler

BENKSHAFT

In mayn heymshtot
hot a ru bahersht di putseray.
Shvarts hobn di mener oysgeklibn;
di froyen shtendik in groy.
Vays iz geven bay undz nisht keyn variant, nor a min gantskeyt.

In mayn heymshtot
hot men farblondzshen nisht gekent.
Di gasn zaynen geven klor vi an ershte geometrye-lektsye;
di gest hobn gikh avekgevorfn zeyere mapes.
Azoy iz geven di kavone fun undzere oves.

In mayn heymshtot
zaynen di sheytl-lokn shtayf gevorn; a goyder hot getsitert.
In shpet-nakhtike geslekh zaynen bakapterte figurn gelofn ahin un tsurik.
In der fri iz klor gevorn az di tsukunft vet nisht zayn gring.
Azoy hobn mir farshtanen revolutsye.

In undzer heymshtot zaynen mentshn gekumen otemen tif.
Zey hobn gefunen in undzere zaln vu tsu klern af s’nay.
Do hobn keler fun oybn geredt in a mildn refren.
Afilu di britanes hobn zikh opgeshtelt untern farnem fun undzere barimte boygns.
Undzer shem hot zikh farshpreyt.

In mayn heymshtot
hot men yo gevust fun makhloykes ober me hot es nisht gemutikt.
Afilu di hint hobn dos farshtanen.
A sakh mentshn hobn zikh fartrakht vegn undzer forml. Ober umzist.
Undzer libshaft hot men ongerufn briderlekh.

Ober s’zaynen geven di vos zaynen farfirt gevorn fun andere shtet,
tsugetsoygn tsu helere farbn, a variirter muzik.
Mir hobn gemeynt az mir kenen iberflantsn di yerushe fun der shtot
un az me vet varem oyfnemen undzer role fun sheliekh.
Ober undzer heymshtot hot zikh opgezogt oystsuzogn ire soydes.

Mir hobn shtendik geloybt undzer heymshtot.
Mir hobn geredt vegn alts vos zi hot undz gegeben beyerushe,
ober keyn mol nisht vegn zikh aleyn vi ganovim. Nor hart farn shlofn geyn
hobn mir a mol zikh dermont in dem letstn farmakhn fun di shtottoyern,
dem intimen kaas fun zeyer farhakn zikh.


SONG FOR THE UNKNOWN SONG

Remember that song?
The one then on every tongue and fingertip,
the one we heard in the car in San Francisco.
Granted, I was susceptible;
it was my first pilgrimage to the Holy City.
Remember how the movement sprawled outwards,
encountering trill and thrill and arpeggio
strategically placed for tingle?
And yet the violin chords anchored us,
gathered us in the city’s embrace.
I loved seeing the hills and the cupolas
and the ocean and the balustrades
through your eyes.
How wide and welcoming everything became,
as if the panorama was framed by veranda curtains stirred by summer breezes.
The precision of your knowledge guided me to the beyond,
to the byways, alleys, lookouts,
even to Harvey’s camera shop.
And all this long before the movie came out.
Everything I had heard so much about was somehow,
upon viewing, still so unexpected,
vibrating in a seventies Technicolor pointillist wash
as the song rippled through me,
as your hand,
massive, matted,
caressed my opening thighs,
with such certainty of movement
(that surely had to reflect a certainty of intent),
as the landmarks of liberation floated by,
as my foot tapped along with the percussionist’s climb towards crescendo,
as I come upon this cable car curio in my night table drawer,
the (almost) only memento of that trip and time,
that trippy time.
If only I could remember that song!

 

 

RUB A DUB-DUB: THREE FIGURES AND A TUB

My sister-in-law kneels over the tub,
exhausted but relaxed in the evening steam.

Even in this position, her dress extends below her knees.
Her sleeves are rolled up, but not above the elbow.

She asks me to remind her of the lokshn kugl in the oven,
of the dry cleaning that needs to be retrieved.

Not that she would forget these things.
But a little reminder can’t hurt, she giggles.

You probably shouldn’t be in here, she whispers suddenly.
But I won’t tell anyone. You can stay.

I wink at her, knowing she won’t see,
so immersed is she in the baby splashing away.

Where’s baby going, she asks.
Show Uncle your duckie, she coos.

I squat to marvel at the toy
and the baby’s chubby strawberry cream perfection.

Dangerously close to her mother, I nuzzle baby’s neck,
feeling the happiness surging in her, the water prancing all around.

I stay down with her, seeking to trace the arcs of her gurgling,
swatting away at the need, once thought dormant, that she has unleashed.

 

 

SPINSTER'S LAMENT

The painting of the rabbi purchased from the homeless man
............(on 6th Avenue for $10) his
prayer shawl framing eyes frowning upon my barrenness

The pea green vase purchased on the streets of Columbus Circle
............(with its “Made in Italy” stamp on the bottom) thinking
probably it wasn’t but savoring still its roundness, its squat insistence

The stained china cup, with its pattern of irises
............(at once delicate and modernist) from
which I sipped and struggled to master the edicts of my fathers

That copy of Kenneth Clark’s The Nude that I spotted as the 4 o’clock
............light poured in (through the trees of Tompkins Square)
shadowing your shoulders arched over turrets of military history tomes

The Jenny Lind bed rescued from that barn in the Finger Lakes
............(nearly asphyxiated by rat droppings and dust) where
you loved me with such focus that one November night

The Psalms I clutched as I slithered into the Ukrainian Church
............(from the downpour after our last pierogi lunch) and
murmured feverishly to foreign, equally indifferent gods

The quilt, never littered with cat hair, wrapped around my sensible frame
............(those decades of Decembers) even
as I prepared for the arrival of the chariot drawn by bejeweled stallions

Who will cherish the provenance of these objects?

Who will say Kaddish for me when I’m gone?

 


Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of three books of poetry, Uncle Feygele (Plain View Press, 2011), What Stillness Illuminated/Vos shtilkayt hot baloykhtn (Parlor Press, 2008; Free Verse Editions), and The Insatiable Psalm (Wind River Press, 2005). His poems in English and Yiddish have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, The Forward, Prairie Schooner, The South Carolina Review, and Two Review. He lives in Washington, DC. His web site: http://www.yataub.net.

The Yiddish version of “Nostalgia/Benkshaft” is transliterated according to the system established by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. A lokshn kugl, mentioned in "Rub a Dub-Dub," is a noodle pudding or loaf.

Credits

 

Published in Volume 12, Number 4, Fall 2011.

 

To read more by this author:
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub: Mapping the City