Mine are the names outmoded as the kindness of my mother,
humble as the cool shadows in the evening woods,
where echoes do not pine away for the love of Narcissus,
but in yearning for a yell of the vanished children of Michalishek.
The restless brook roving through my tiny home town
will repeat forever and a day the names of Michalishek.
Yeiske, real as this rhymeless prayer to love:
a thrilling chill from the snows of my childhood,
entrancing as Joseph through the dreams of Pharaoh,
not in dungeons of Egypt but on mudlands of Lithuania
cherished by a wish of a homeless, hunted Jew.
Yeiske, genuine as the light of my eyes.
Meishke, a name moving as an oar of a homemade rowboat,
rowed idly by a lone, love-wounded lad,
longing for his barefooted maiden over the Viliya River,
which hugged the townlet of my bearded forefathers:
rich in mighty dreams, proud with hoary wisdom.
The crude oar in lover’s hands, miraculous as Moses’ wonder rod.
Blumke, brisk as stray seeds flung into your face by a slapping wind.
Her hair braided with tough flowers growing out of the stones of a ruin.
Her fingers sore from plucking sorrel out of thornbushes.
Winter, she mellows by the light of cherubs on wings of icicles.
The sudden gust through frost-weeds rustled her in silks.
Blumke, sister of dandelions—O, tear-kissed sister of mine!
Menke, laughworthy, not worth the eyehole of a needle—
but my eyebrows are opulent, bushy as thoughts of life after death.
My father’s eyebrows—the pride of the baretoed nights of Michalishek.
My walk is light and free as my mother’s laughter.
I am dangerous as at twilight, a falling day,
daring as a newborn word, startling as a freshly molded verse.
I am chatty as Yiddish, my mother tongue.
I dallied with dreams as in a game of jackstones,
when stars paved the crooked, unpaved alley where I was born.
The candlelit house struggles with the night, blind as a mole.
Berke—a boy left all alone in the depths of a cheder tale,
where a dark forest glares only with the eyes of a threatening bear.
The bear is shaken by the awe of the pleading boy:
“O, bear, bear, bearele, be timid and kind,
mamma will surely bring you tomorrow
a tasty cooky flavored with poppy-seeds.”
Elchik is the neighboring brother from the near-by cemetery:
a lad wrought on a windowpane of our age-weary house,
caressed by pitiless winter, pampered by bleak, freezing design.
Elchik—a name scorched under the ashes of my burnt hometown.
Michalishek in flames toward a deaf, godless sky,
carried him to heaven, like Elijah, on horses of fire.
The moon is a snow-apple of a delusive orchard,
to tease hungry little brothers and a fright-skinned sister.
Carved in traceries of frost-work appears Elijah of Gilead,
seeking death, in vain, under a broom-bush,
with God not in wind or fire, but in tender whisper.
The smell of caves of the wilderness on his clothes.
The kindness of a far, lucky morrow in his eyes.
Real and near as the next-door neighbor,
he opens for the children a bagful of bread,
brought to him by ravens at the stream Kerith.
Elchik is the light of his long shining beard.
He scatters on the windowpane the three hundred bits of silver
which Joseph gave to Benjamin in the land of Egypt.
The cheery sister picks frost-beads for a fairy garland.
The wealthy little brothers gather the fancied coins.