The newest issue of Asymptote is coming out this Thursday, and in anticipation of our special Yiddish Poetry Feature, we bring you three poems from poet and translator Zackary Sholem Berger. Translated from the Yiddish, these poems are inventive and playful even as they explore serious and philosophical themes.
This bird in town
Eyes me up and down:
My sin is known
The night sings in my arms
The night sings in my arms.
It’s bedtime, flesh-and-blood.
Time to close the thought-store.
Be. Just. Be.
Is a cover
For your boiling jar.
My name changes overnight.
Looking in the morning mirror
My face is an empty zero.
Roll up to my dreams,
Ask them to lie down like dogs.
And I’ll keep petting them.
The Circle Drawer
They’ve disassembled the world and put it
Back together differently overnight.
Repaired defects, filled holes with putty,
Refurbished the lining, painted rainbow bright.
You get up like Choni HaMe’agel:
Is this some new friendship — or the other thing?
You try sketching a circle and just get a zigzag. You’ll
Stay awake, painfully disorienting.
Like in the old movies, you get a newspaper
Making sure everything is stable.
But it seems like facts are rather swept
Aside. It’s only aging, years uncounted, that you’re able.
The world has been transmuted in this change
Like a factory now governed by machines.
Translated from the Yiddish by Zackary Sholem Berger
Zackary Sholem Berger lives multiple literary lives. He is a poet and translator working in (as well as between) Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. His work has appeared in multiple venues, including Poetry magazine, the Yiddish Forward, and Asymptote; themes of his verse range from the philosophical and medical to the immediate problems of his adopted city, Baltimore. In the Yiddish world he might be best known as a regular contributor to the Forverts and the translator of Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat (as well as other Seuss creations) into Yiddish. His translations of prose poetry by Avrom Sutzkever are due to appear in book form in 2020.
Read more translations on the Asymptote blog: