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Yiddish Moves

Richard J. Fein

INTRODUCTION

When Richard J. Fein, translator of Avrom Sutzkever’s Siberia, sent us a typewritten manuscript in a physical envelope via the postal service (perhaps the first such submission that In geveb has ever received), we assumed it was another translation. The modernist feel of the poem, the unspooling single sentence, and how it engages the question of nostalgia without stewing in it. But there was no Yiddish original! Lucky us to receive so rare a thing: a contemporary piece of modernist English-language Yiddish poetry. When we emailed Fein to ascertain authorship, he replied “Ikh bin der poet, nisht Sutzkever.” Fein’s original poem, Yiddish Moves, moved us — and so we’re glad to present In geveb’s first piece of original English-language poetry, and to present our first attempt at English-language zetsn, via this act of cultural-historical translation.

Click here to download a PDF of the original typewritten poem.


Yiddish Moves

I felt the tug of Yiddish and the taste of it, kitchen-depth of kin-speech,
sensed it in the shelf paper, linoleum, cushions, oilcloth, doilies, shades,
watched it in the flies flecking the sticky paper coiling down from the ceiling,
carried it in my childhood body in the cramped apartment, my own body
penetrated by mame loshn, and Yiddish turned into remnant
nerve endings and vesicles, became my unskilled native tongue
lurking in me in the midst of my high school-college readings of Whitman,
James, Dreiser, Eliot,
my seedtime analyses and affinities driven by my very condition of disparity
and otherness, my outsider moods and minds tempered by the aboriginal
and canny twists and turns of the Yiddish joke, its digging under assumptions,
its honed mockery of patrician maneuvers, of goyish satisfactions,
of civic swindlings, of boastings, calibrations of power, smugness of gain —
oh, gift of gab tempered into skepticism, pitched into us-vs.-them, moaned
into pathos of loss,
oh, language of pity, of voluptuous sarcasm, of love and rebuke of God
(giving back to Him what he hurled at the people in Hebrew),
oh, language of diminishment either taunting or tender, oh lilt of endearment,
bravura of the blessing-curse,
oh, tongue inclined to the calling of account, tribal language of reckoning,
dismissed tongue that assessed the world,
oh, mawkish tongue, purveyor of schmaltz that blocks the arteries of candor,
you, bathos-speech deserving the ridicule and scorn of your own mocking
powers,
oh, vernacular of moving hands, of gargled modulations, garrulity nosying
into its own ruminations,
oh, challah-speech pinched off and chewed in the kitchen, around the table
and inside the child’s mouth, intellect and taste — eating-speech —
oh, language of early years, the child’s years pulled into elementary
sound-school,
zhargon elbowing, spurring, coloring, nudging, noodging, devising, claiming,
oh, Yiddish, a language without a land and you paid for it, a language born to
pity and to probe,
your genius of the declarative sentence attuned to the interrogative — “You
call this coffee” —
Yiddish feeding into English as rhythm, vocabulary, tone, syntax,
while I became the heir and spender of memory, the inheritor-delver
into the drawers, the valises, the trunks, the shoulder-bags, finding there dear
coinage,
even as you, Yiddish, were slipping away, left only to flavor America.

MLA STYLE
Fein, Richard J. “Yiddish Moves.” In geveb, April 2018: https://ingeveb.org/blog/yiddish-moves.
CHICAGO STYLE
Fein, Richard J. “Yiddish Moves.” In geveb (April 2018): Accessed Nov 15, 2018.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard J. Fein

Richard J. Fein's books include Yiddish Genesis (personal essays) and Not a Separate Surge: New and Selected Poems.