Two Poems

Yankev Glatshteyn

A Word in the Mouth

What do you own that’s really yours?
A word in your mouth.
Take the meaning and conceal it.
Come to the world in a crown of dusk.
Hold out your hand and beg.

Events fall like hail on a frightened world.
Save yourself, disguised as a shadow.
Diminished and null, stricken and weary.
Let the tower of your poem be covered by snow.

Banish your heir.
Reject your last kaddish.
Those loins that pushed you into life—destroyed.
Your language in the mouth of an aged parrot.
The flash of your eye will also soon die out.

Across from you on a bench in the wretched poorhouse
the God of your fathers sits, worn out and sick.
The mighty, magnificent, ever-present God
is also like a mocked, rejected beggar.

Don’t condemn Him.
Seek the virtues in a ruined Jew.
Like a night chorus in spiderwebbed sleep,
the remnants of a last generation dream.
Be like a Levi-Yitzkhok to Him.


The old beautiful Yiddish translation
missends the words of my prayer to You.
My praise incenses the air with a godly fragrance.
I pray to You from a mute book of prayers,
my sad God.

The least flower gives You more satisfaction
than the whole six-day creation.
The inertia of our destructive life
is the least of Your concerns.
You bestow on us thousands of years from the mountain
and hide Your face from us.
The walls of our houses drip with stupidity.

We can’t even know the ABC’s of holiness.
How many thousands of lives does one need
before one can imagine sitting at Your feet?
I pray to You from a mute book of prayers,
my sad God.

You are not fearsome. You are not angry.
You are only far from us
when we desecrate the moments of our life.
No matter how many flashes of eternity we have to smell,
our nostrils can’t get rid of the stink of the Khorbm.
I pray to You from a mute book of prayers,
my sad God.

translated from the Yiddish by Richard J. Fein