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[Page 177]

Poems of Remembrance

by Mordekhai Pitkin

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Rafael Manory

1. The village

Roofs made of straw and hay,
Toward the ground their margins dive,
Walls in white shining lime,
And tiny windows–like eyes.

And the huts–arranged in lines,
Pleasing a visitor's eyes,
And beyond them–a calm river
Stretching between its green banks.

 

2. Establishment of the colony

On wandering and sorrowful roads
Under the croaking sound of frogs,
Somewhere at the prairie's edge
A minyan of Jews has arrived.

One by one, the shovels were distributed
They ploughed furrows in virgin–land,
And wearing arm and head phylacteries
A couple of oxen they would follow.

Suddenly oy vey! The head phylactery
Fell down! Oh Merciful God
Spontaneously they call: “Pick it up” and plow
And so laughter is mixed with a tear.

Many paths lead to the heavenly throne.
They pleaded when the wet season come!
Give power to man and ox
And timely bring the rain!

The oxen listened to the chanting,
And with ease pulled their burden,
Behind them a furrow stretched,
Long lines of goodness and plenty.

The time for sowing has arrived,
The farmer in his wagon senses,
His feet are firmly on the ground,
His lips whisper the morning prayer

And the wagon is laden
With golden seeds to the brim.
The children spread around in its wideness
Gathering straw from end to end.

I do recall, at the field's edge
A baby is lying in his cradle,
And at his crying, a young mother
Is bending over him and singing.

And when the harvest's time arrives –
Reap, tie and hoist the sheaf…
Years of hard work are passing
Each conversing with the other.

[Page 178]

3. Grandma and Grandpa

Outside, the cold is stabbing-burning
Snow-mountains crown the village
Around the old man– the grandchildren gathered
at the flaming hearth.

One is wise, the other mischievous
and one is pleading “Please tell me a story!”
A heartfelt smile shines over them
and grandpa smoothes his snowy beard

He tells stories about the past
How they traveled southward to the end of the wilderness,
and with tremendous effort and hard work,
a colony of Jews established

How the village joined
with the neighboring city in the fairs.
Although the dwellers of our city were brothers,
Unfortunately,… their behavior was not right

And one day, misfortune happened
Accidentally he lost his wallet.
But these city dwellers, the clowns
teased and made fun of him—the fool.

When he tells that story—the old man blushes
as if this just happened yesterday,
and to sweeten his insult,
he brings a cup of liquor to his mouth

And grandma who was sitting in the corner
utters at him angrily while knitting:
“again a sip?…this is a deadly drink,
It's shortening his life”.

But the kittens were playing with the spool,
a joyful game they played together.
Grandpa sees it and smiles:
“enough with the grumpiness, grandma”.

In the hearth, the straw is burning happy,
smokeless the fire is burning.
A heifer is jumping—hop! hop! hop!
and suddenly is licking grandma.

Grandma the heifer softly caresses,
The fight is over, the grandchildren are pleased,
a true peace between them now prevails
Grandma and grandpa have reconciled.

 

4. The Village Boy

A tight worn-out fur,
A wide sash on his hips -
Went out marching with his donkey,
To water it in the evening.

At the well, it's bitter frost
Boys and girls, arduously
Engage in conversation,
Sound, and a white haze
The speaker's mouth would generate

[Page 179]

The cold intensifies, clap your hands,
Lift up your legs and dance, my child
The hand pump squeaks
And the rein's ring–rings

Frozen eyebrows with a white curtain covered,
But the cheeks are burning fire,
In circles–circles they gather,
Noise, laughter and merriment.

Rows of teeth–lustrous whiteness
And the eyes' darkness—splendor and glamour.
The old man moans “oof!”
With filled hearts, the youth laugh.

 

5. On a Stormy Night

As the freeze intensifies, a storm
is rising, bursting and frightening.
In her flight towards the nest, a bird
freezes in the wind and down she falls.

Dark night, the woman is on her own,
She listens to the wind in silence.
The kids are sleeping, and the tree
bends over its broken branches.

The man is wandering far away,
Perhaps his knocking is in vain?
His teeth are shattering: “I'll die on the doorstep,”
If the door won't open for me.

Hush, do I hear a cry outside?
Perhaps an orphan just arrived at the gate?
She's holding a lantern in her hand,
the flame dies out…there's nobody there…just storm and thunder.

 

6. To the Uncle's Home – for Hanukkah's Pancakes

Evening time. snowy mountains in blue,
they change colors non-stop.
The street is by the moon illuminated
invites us brothers—let's go out, this evening.

On the cart-sleigh crowded and packed,
We are riding together—to Uncle, to the pancakes.
A column of smoke is rising from the chimney,
the world is wrapped in a calm delight.

This is Hanukkah, we are trembling with joy
Candles wink from every window
Aromas in the air,
Fill old and young hearts with delight.

Father would lash his whip, “Vyo”!
and we the children copy-emulate him.
The sleigh flows like the wind,
the horse is galloping as if it's got wings.

[Page 180]

7. The Youngest Uncle Is in the Foreign City

Grandpa reads his son's letter,
in Dnieper City his son chose to reside.
The old man looks at the picture again:
and sadness takes hold of his face.

Sad and gloomy is the letter
The son must be missing his home.
He was still a boy when away he went,
my good child, so wise and knowledgeable.

He does not write much about his affairs,
he just wants to know every detail.
Whether any rain is falling, and how is the heifer doing,
and sends regards to those who know him.

How is he doing in foreign land,
not even a syllable, there is no mention.
But I feel from between the lines
longing and tears in the eye.

The time is passing, and one day
Uncle—the sailor, suddenly arrives,
humming songs of liberty
an idea he swore allegiance to.

 

8. Jewish Theater in the Village

Alas, times–upheavals
grumbles the father–mother's camp,
sons deviate from heritage
going forward in the ways of the Amorites.

One day, a day of harsh freeze,
wanderers-visitors, to the village arrive,
dressed splendidly and strangely,
and speaking in language of wit.

The actors!...The show,
is held in a warehouse. Trembling,
the crowd listens, open-mouthed and heart
Shulamit receives a pure oath,

an oath to a lover. The witnesses -
a hasty rat and a deep pit.
The crowd is probing: how would this end?
and laugh blushingly at each other.

The bitter end comes quick.
The group of the spectators moves with shame
The Pristav[1] :“Gakh Nyelzia Pashol!”[2]
meaning: “you are now divorced”

Too bad, it is too late.
We still need to oil the wheel.
If you were not early to pay the bribe
Esau would act forcibly

[Page 181]

9. Being Recruited to Serve Esau

The recruiting order for the age group has arrived,
The recruits' preparation is intensive.
They now rule the scene,
Who could resist them tonight?

If you don't offer them a drink—
Your cellar is not safe.
They'll raid it with no mercy,
Better be nice to them and patient.

Passover wine would be served to the guests
and the evening meal's leftovers.
Both sides would raise their cup
“le'Khaim”—“To Life” to the sword bearers.

Here they sit in the wagon
together, and in a tight squeeze,
throwing a quick farewell look
at girl, mother and farther.

Soon they will read letters—
A flushed-face maiden and father-mother.
Columns of words from the heart
Written with care and respect:

I am praying here by myself
Holidays, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh,
In my mind—I can see the synagogue
and in my heart—the Holy Ark.

 

10. Spring Evening

The southern breeze is tender
The snows have darkened, only the ice remains,
The windows were cleaned of any sign
of sketches of buttons or flowers.

Water drops trickle down from the roof and tinkle,
The frozen winds are fading.
At the wall, a group of toddlers,
Warm up under the sun rays.

Near the hay, the cows are mooing,
And the calves are running around—
Spring has arrived. From the top of the dunghills,
The cocks are calling—It is here!

Water streams are escaping to the prairie
like prisoners from the jailhouse.
In the evening—listen to the commotion:
“Tomorrow, children, we'll witness the miracle!”

On the river—a sleigh.
Should we cross? —she hesitates.
An old man's advice: “better not,
It's better to be safe, than sorry.”

Streams flow down from the highlands,
And find salvation in the valleys.
From day to day,
the hills get covered in joyful colors of blossom.

[Page 182]

A voice is calling: “Get out”
There is nothing wrong with knee-high mud,
and on Saturday on the river
we watch the last block of ice.

The rumor is saying: “in the city
A “new spring” is making waves.
The enslaving iceberg smashed to pieces,
“Liberation” is marching on the streets with a flag.

And look: a soldier is standing,
Speaking to the crowd with no hesitation or recoil.
From the front's trenches
The truth is calling you.

The best of the youth fell in the battles,
What did they die for and why?
And who sent them to be slaughtered in vain?
the wild “Samoderjetz”[3]

The youths are singing, and the highland
Is carrying the echoes of the song,
People old and young applauding,
On both the speech and the song.

 

11. What would Tomorrow Bring?

The old man is looking up
His eyes searching for the paths in the sky
What would tomorrow bring? Would it be nice,
or perhaps it would rain shortly?

He smooths his splendid beard,
As if it was a precious jewel.
Would there be rain? Or maybe not?
His lips are asking his beard's mouth.
At twilight, during sunset,
people discuss the delicate puzzle:
If the sun sets in a cloud,
Then, this way the rain would come.

Beyond the river, the sun
is slowly setting between the highlands,
It would light the treetops,
and the huts are gleaming hot.

The breeze is light and delicate,
The trees in dialogue are rustling:
” No rain is brewing there,
It will be nice and dry tomorrow.”

 

12. Get Out to the Prairie

“It's time to get out to the prairie” -
The people who seed the fields say.
We are going. The children are running on the side of the wagon with the wild foal.

[Page 183]

From the distance, the prairie light,
Rules like a pure flow—it's shining.
Clear are the birds' chirpings,
Reaching the farmers' ears.

They sow a corner— then rest a bit,
they catch a nap, near the wagon.
Their clock is their hunger,
and the sun in the sky.

How pleasant is the horse's neighing
when its name is sounded:
a manly call of a young youth,
embarrassed, he blushes. He's annoyed!

Here, the farmer's son would hoist
the pale. He would drink from the water, first
and then give water to the horse
and whistle a tune between his teeth.

 

13. Kiddies

Sweating, shoes in hands -
Who is coming to the prairie? The children!
Food for mid-day, in the basket,
Picking flowers on their way.

They would quickly return home,
Their thirst is burning – Give me water!
Their mouth clings to the nipple like with glue
It seems that they would never separate.

Later they share a bite,
“Kezlech”[4] they would not abandon.
Oh my God, their appetite is enormous,
Their mouths are drooling, and so are…their noses.

Their neighbor turns and smiles:
“Load up and fill up,
gobble up, without hesitating –
a bad eater—is a criminal”.

Spontaneously he would pinch them,
A “tradition” familiar to any child.
It seems that something burned you so
Like an ember from hell's fire

Let's go, rascals, let's go now,
to learn a cart to drive.
The children jump with eagerness,
Still chewing their food.

Who would not want to learn the horses' conduct?
Learn more and more!
A tear appears in the child's eye
Due to a pinch or simply joy

[Page 184]

[A poem about the colony Sdeh Menukha]

Images of an infinite number of shades of colors
Life-years from a distant past
Against my thoughtful glance
Come into my alert remembrance.

But, Sdeh Menukha, you yourself,
Fade like a dream, my heart is longing for you.
The memories of your past
Sprinkle salt on my wounds.

The few, have abandoned you,
And their homes were by others overtaken.
Their soul seeks consolation for you
With a song their generation is requesting.

 

Author's Notes
  1. Head of Police Return
  2. It is forbidden! Get out! Return
  3. “Samoderjetz” Russian word for autocrat, i.e. the Czar Return
  4. “Kezlech” Yiddish word for a type of cheese cake Return

 

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