“TWO POEMS BY PERETZ MARKISH
translated by Amelia Glaser
— — —
Hey, what do you deal in – sorrow?
What are you selling there – despair?
I’m a buyer and a dealer,
and I’m dealing and I’m wheeling
days and nights, and even moments:
on a scale of joy I weigh them,
buy them up and then resell them,
half are black
and half in blazes,
at fairs, in markets, and on highways
who should happen in my pathway,
in whoever’s path I happen
I count Mammon!…
I’m a buyer and a dealer
and I’m dealing and I’m wheeling…
What are you selling – corpses? Rags?
Or long-since-departed dads?
Hey, a buyer’s slipped a way,
he’s dying but will be reborn.
— — —
With lips pressed one to the other,
laden to their brows, silent,
and wooden bellies bound round
gray rows of shops drag
across the Saturday-market gray,
like blind men, tightly clinging one to the other…
In the middle of the market
stands an overloaded wagon,
under the wagon a tall Gentile is stretched out
like a slaughtered corpse, snoring, ruminating, he gnashes and spits.
The horses chew, heads turned toward the wagon,
tails left dangling into infinity…
Peretz Markish (1895 – 1952) was an avant-garde Soviet Yiddish poet who eventually turned to Stalinism, then was arrested and killed along with the other top Soviet Yiddish writers in Lubyanka prison, the “Night of the Murdered Poets,” less than a year before Stalin’s own death.
Amelia Glaser is an Assistant Professor of Russian Literature at the University of California, San Diego. She translates poetry from Yiddish and Russian, and has translated and coedited (with David Weintraub) a collection of leftist Yiddish poems, Proletpen, America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets (University of Wisconsin Press, 2005).