Poetry on Nature and Culture

By Abraham Sutzkever
Translated from the Yiddish by James Nadel

Chagall’s Garden

Behind the gate, in 18 carat dew
your bride bathes herself.
She swims anxiously in the pallet
together with blue balms.
Your vision becomes a garden. Oh, nightingale night!

The paints kiss each other. Your pencil, alone
a human shout
over a milky way of canvas,
from the very top.
Warm, girlish apples
tell him of blushing mysteries.
His colors release all that is good,
which the garden
hides in a fog.

The Way to Paradise

Of all the masterpieces in the Louvre
(Centuries brought together one wall with another),
The skinless face of fate hounds me:
The cow with her plump, cracked breast – by Rembrandt.

Nothing else:

The violent Dutchman was once mixing,
In golden cups, his paints,
The secret wines,
And suddenly discovered in his
Drunken skull
A gallows.
It hangs a beast.
And there, that dream of his was immortalized…

He laid his dream on the Butcher’s desk, crassly
In order to expose the color of that bovine moo.
He sent up a prayer, and struck the canvas with wounds,
So that the cow might enter the heavenly Louvre.

A Chord

With a single finger
(the others behind a cloud,
jealous of him) –
the son plays the piano
of boney, toothy waves
a finger that wants not to depart
along with the cosmic palm.

A silver fly-fish
devours him together with my rhyme,
to bring to the pearl,
which is now being born in the sea,
a chord from the last symphony.

I already know the taste…

I already know the taste of the snow on Kilomanjaro.
It smells of homemade challah
submerged in rough salt. And, frozen
in its mouths, crouches by day and night
an icy sunset
and the air looks like marble…

A Dream

I dreamed that I was
Among people who never died.
There they were never victims and
Every suckling child is as old as Methuselah.
That same clever king still rules,
From the time of the first Flood.
He finds himself a resident, raking
Through his memory –
His years are set in him like stars and
Eternity is his daily bread.

Among others I am only the crazy man,
Who, in his temples and shops,
Announces the news: Everyone, I saw the dead!

No tears. Stones fall from the giants eyes instead.
All are clay. No one believes, not one.

Then the king holds up his hand,
And silences the crowd:
— Stranger, my royal treasures are yours, if you will show me!

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