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[ Page 57 ]

Yoel Slonim (New York)

Yoel Slonim, who was a famous poet, and for a time a colleague from the New York Tag newspaper, in which he published a large number of poems, was born in Drohitchin. We are printing here a few of Slonim's poems that he published in Tag following his visit to Drohitchin. Y. Slonim died in 1944. [Editor] [Photo:] Yoel Slonim


TWICE IN DROHITCHIN

1.

Is this the same stream
where we used to swim, and
where the dogs and bad kids would
stand near the mountain?

Is this the same Vion
where we used to play horses
and think up stories after
finishing kheder in the summer evening?

And is this the same garden
where for hours we used to munch
on berries, cherries and little eggs
that we took from the birds' nest?

Is this the same little mountain
where my little army and I
would always conquer the "Philistines"
in pits of mud and snow?

Is this the same field, where through the rye fields,
I used to go with Chaya on the Sabbath?
I never forgot the kisses, and how
the years flew by.

And is this – the huge towers,
the chaos, the wild cries,
the flames spreading out, burning
the dancing heart of Broadway?

And in a riot, did I lose the joy
that was before,
and did I forget the faraway voice
in the flames?

Is this Drohitchin, Drohitchin,
the green island of joy,
when I came from America
with amazement in my eye as a small boy?

That path to the well
was like from a dream,
and every day, far far away from Papa
a hazy hand would lead me.

Don't wonder, my friend, you're now
back in Drohitchin,
back on the streets and alleys
holding onto beautiful memories.

My friend, everything is the way it was,
the forest, the river and the rye;
it's all here like it was before,
but you have changed.

2.

When I came back to Drohitchin,
I didn't recognize it at all;

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the streets, houses and people
appeared different and strange.

The streets are paved with cobblestone,
the mud in the market is no more,
no stores in the market, that used to
stand like an old man with a bent neck.

The stores were built from brick,
and their number increased everywhere,
but here and there along Egypt Street,
stood a bent and twisted house.

I went over to the old Synagogue courtyard,
it's now completely changed,
now my school room is a three-story house,
where my childhood is as good as gone.

I went over to the sand by the bridge,
and Chaya wasn't there,
her parents are dead,
and she left, and no one saw her again.

I went over to the sawmill,
that belonged to my grandfather, R. Velvel, long dead.
Where are the landowners from the villages and hamlets,
with their britschkas in green and red?

Where are the women in flesh and bone,
the houses with roofs from straw?
Where is the bath house, with the old broken windows,
the poorhouse with loneliness and pain?

Where are the chassidim, in the long drawers and sidecurls ,
the Rebbe, the holy Jew,
the long coats, and the hats?
The happy and calm life.

Where is the long ago old stillness,
the clean, proper times?
It's all gone away, it's all changed.
It's all so far away.

Then I left the shtetl, and I
started feeling nostalgic,
my heart was filled with the shadow
of the synagogue courtyard,
and the synagogue's bright light and hanging lamps.

It's either the heaven made of soft blue silk
and a golden chair made ready,
or the earth with a vampire-like
look in the air, and noise everywhere.

Broadway is better, with its bloody beauty,
with souls in a blazing wind,
the flame of sin in New York
is better than half a sin in a little town.

I left the shtetl, and then felt a pain
in my heart.
I traveled overseas, magical dreams,
yet still feeling the pain, ashamed.

I FEEL SO NOSTALGIC

There's no limit to what can happen to me,
I often don't even known what can happen to me.
Suddenly it seems as if I'm a child,
back in Drohitchin.

My grandparents came to the train station to meet me,
with Yankel the wagon-driver and two horses.
The horses neighed and wildly stamped their feet,
scratching the muddy ground.

I jumped off the wagon, and ran
around in the high grass.
The horses were panting heavily along
the sand road.
And I fly in the field, as free as a rabbit.

My mother is content, but yells at me,
and R. Yankel warns me about the wolves around.
I laugh cheerfully laugh and say,
"In America every child is a man."

"What a naughty boy, what a naughty boy,"
says my grandfather to me,
and laughs through his beard, and gives me a pinch.
I kiss his hairy mouth, jump off the wagon, running
around in the free summer air.

Everyone comes to grandfather's house
to say hello to the relatives and then leave.
In the courtyard near the barn, there are two dogs,
I get friendly with them and bring them in the house.


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I go to the kheder, and study well,
I get pinched on the cheek and get a blessing too.
I'm bored in the class and in synagogue,
I sneak out through a back door.

I play in the rye field, I run around the forest,
I climb up trees, and bang my head.
I look for birds' nests, I just take a look,
I don't move the eggs, I slowly climb down.

I run after animals, I jump on the horses,
How free I feel, never feeling bad,
the herdsmen seem so good,
and wicked Pavliuk even likes me.

I guide the herd back to town,
I make noise with the other kids on the street,
and my mother yells at me, so what?
I know it's just a joke.

I ride on the back of Kashtan,
He barks, and shakes his head cheerfully to me,
And Murza jumps around like a black and white dog,
he looks at me happily, and lets me go first.

I teach the children how to play ball,
and also how to box.
We can even turn the bad kids into a heap.

I sit in New York and smile to myself,
the years fly by so very fast,
I see Drohitchin before my eyes, as clear as can be,
as if it was just last year that I was there as a boy.

My heart gets hot, I am really tired,
and my dry words fly up as if on wings.
It rings with nostalgia, a long-dead poem,
I feel pain, I feel joy.

NEW YORK AND DROHITCHIN

I was in Drohitchin yesterday,
I saw the green Vion again;
the old House of Study and chassidic synagogue too.
The market was filled with peasants,
the blacksmith at the stream, striking up sparks.
The stream was flowing noisily,
and barefoot mothers washing
the hair of their crying babes.

When I left the synagogue courtyard to go to the well,
the trees hid the sun along the road;
when I went to the landlord, into his well,
the forest looked so magical and stood there so fine.
The dogs started barking again,
I just stood still as always.
Suddenly a young Polish fellow arrived,
and took me by the hand.

I later went back to Drohitchin,
along crooked paths, with joy and a gaze;
Worn out women are sitting on prizvas,
while the men smoke their pipes next to them.
They tell each other stories of this one or that,
and no one wishes anyone bad or pain.
The moon starts to shine through the trees,
how good is it to be now in Drohitchin.

And here is grandpa, and grandma too,
and here their four cornered house.
Here is the poplar, the young oak tree,
in the middle a huge oak full of leaves.
I meet the rabbinical judge, I talk with the rabbi,
how warm and friendly, how deep their gaze;
it's all so close to me, so dear,
it's so nice here, I don't want to go back.

As a boy I was here only once,
but every home was open to me.
I think that each flower, each tree
murmured something to me, about calm, about life.
I feel exalted, I feel a faith,
I got rid of the burden that was New York;
Life won't rob me of any dreams,
here is where I will renew my youth.

Here I won't hear any talk that is false,
and not fooled by any of my friends;
no one will hold back my fantasies,
and here my messiah will never be imprisoned.
New York, its towers are trying to pierce the heavens,
and I could never reach them.
I want to forget them, their haunting gaze,
I want to stay here, and never go back.

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