from To Clear Shores

Rajzel Zychlinsky


It was in a quiet dusk.
In a window a small jug with honey,
on the table a shaker with salt.
Delilah’s knees were white and round,
and Samson’s lips
thick and sad.
All already was:
the wife,
the lion,
the honey;
three hundred foxes incited with fire,
the gates of a sleeping city
hefted on his shoulders
up Mt. Herman at dawn,
a thousand men smitten
by the jawbone of an ass.
He had kissed valleys
and carried mountains in his hands.
All already was.
Oh, you wife from the Sorek Valley,
see, I am strong,
but I am sorrowful.
Absolve me!
Dissolve me!
See my locks?
Grab them, lop them off!
Bind my hands for me,
bind my feet for me;
I want so much to be like you,
like you all,
like everyone.
I want to fear the lion
and I want to kneel before the mountain.
Oh, you wife from the Sorek valley!
And Samson kissed Delilah’s knee.
And Samson wept on her knee.


Six dogs have met
at her door
and are wailing together.
Will she go out or not?
The white dog
with a yellow stain on its back
sits on its haunches
and shivers.
His skinny shadow lies beside him
blue on the snow.
The black dog has found a bone;
only his ears flutter in the wind.
The brown dog doesn’t budge
from the doorstep.
The fourth,
the fifth,
the sixth,
throat next to throat.
The night is bright.
Bark on the willow trees
all the stars are in place.
Through the frozen river
gleam the green eyes
of the drowned.
She will go out—
or not?

From a Cloud
Kazan, 1943.

From a cloud my mother looks at me
with bloodied eyes—
daughter, bind my wounds.
Her grey head is bowed.

My sister calls amidst the leaves
of all the green trees:
My little girl, my daughter, where is she?
Rajzhl, gather her bones together.

My brother swims in the waters
days, weeks, years.
A stone is lashed to his throat.
The sky is lit with blue tears.

My neighbor wakes me in the nights:
They hanged me head down.
Take me from the gallows—hoist me.
Oh, how has each hair on my head turned white?

May. I walk around among shadows
holding my small son by the hand.
So many shorn lives clinging
to me, to my corners,
to my walls.

So many shorn lives shiver
on my child’s long eyelashes,
so many shorn lives resound
in May, in spring wind.

My Sister Chana

On green grass,
behind a tall mountain,
my sister Chana wanders.
I call her in the nights:
My sister, come—
She answers nothing.
There is a rustling of chestnut trees.

On a cool cloud
in a blue ship
my sister Chana floats around.
I call her in the days:
My sister, wait—
She answers nothing
and floats away from here.

Only sometimes the mirror weeps.
I look there deep inside,
in the sad eyes
of my sister Chana.
The hair is already grey—
no, it is ash,
white, grey ash
of my sister Chana.

In the Strange Country

It is not my window,
it is also not my patch of snow.
In a strange house
I wake
in a strange night.
In a strange land
I beseech
a strange god.
From where?
To where?—
a star screams from heaven,
But I am silent
as it is silent.
A hopelessly lost letter.


Now come the rainy days.
The potatoes, already dug
from the fields.
The last leaf falls.
The tree stands naked
and waits
for wind.
People! If you have a home
you will seal your window
with putty and with clay.
And in the evenings you will
light a lamp.

Whoever has no home
will open their eyes wider,
will drift with the clouds
from land to land
with an upturned collar
and a skeletal hand—
Whoever has no home.

translated from the Yiddish by Susan Cohen