Moyshe Nadir

Translated from Yiddish by Zackary Sholem Berger

MY PEDIGREE

 

My great-great-great grandpa
would crack heads
like people crack coconuts:
hang them around his neck
to keep track of a gnawed bone
or a woman torn open
and throw an arrow at his own eye in the water.

My great-great grandpa
polished pyramids.
He and his little brother
used to drag a pyramid
from Dignuz to Kardima
(by the waters of Cheftzar)
and then they would wipe their sweat
with big leaves
then these same leaves
would be savories
to eat with raw grass
and frogs.

My great grandpa
was a chunky high priest.
He used to stand there in his priestly garments
grinding pigeon shit and gallbanum
together with urine
and say "Grind it up,
Grind it up"
(because the voice is good for the incense)
and yell at the Israelites
"Why are the lamb kidneys so dinky?
And why aren't you forgetting any stalks in the field?
And keep it down, because the incense
can't take in my sweet and holy voice!"

My grandpa
My grandpa was a kosher slaughterer
who ran his cleaver
over calves' necks
like a klezmer, maybe, with his bow
over the fiddle strings.
He'd mumble all sorts of blessings
which fell on his wet beard -
and get greasy from blood.
And God would lap it all up.

My father
was a well-put-together guy
in satin and silk.
Walked with small steps on Shabbos
(and in my mom's heart).
And when he was really pumped up
from good business and good liquor
and flushed from woods and wind
(and lust for young shiksas)
he'd grab his beautiful beard
between his hands
and say to my young mother:
Hey, I don't get no respect!
Reb Yoyl's son Zimele - he's my ancestor!
And sit down dipping pieces of cake
in a shotglass green with whiskey.

Me Myself
I wear colored ties
and clothes of the best wool fabric.
Got the best bed-and-table-manners
and women love my sass,
love my gray hat which sits rakishly
on my young gray head.
My love affairs are small and thought out.
They get worn out and boring, like the ties.
And I say often to my best woman in the highest moments:
"Like an undershirt, next to my own body,
I want to change my wife" -
she is terrified by my crazy rudeness
and squeezes me even harder
hanging on my lips - on my heart
which is really beating, literally, on her lips.

And I'm good for ear and eye. My dilapidation
is like the sweet perfumed fading
of the last apple in the winter forest.
My soul often walks around without winter underwear,
without shame, but with pain
from people who profess shame
from pretend embarrassment
which dangles from their mouths
like the earrings of a woman who says No but does Yes.
My eye is a sad brown. My ear is handsome.
The back of my neck is a bourgeois pretty-ugly.
My appetites frequently get eaten up
with the food I'm eating.
My weakness is: a fat Donhill pipe.
And a black wife - a little lightened up.
Like coffee with a splash of milk.
And a jug of sweet-sour white wine.
My coat is bright and wide
and covers up lots and often.
My pocket handkerchief understands
what's stolen by the corners of the eyes.
My nose is long -- and knows the smell
of a hundred dollars or more.
It has its own concept of women and love.
To it, the whole world of Art is insignificant
compared to the tuft of hair
in my lover's underarm.

 

 

 

 

- - - - - -

Moyshe Nadir (1885-1943) was known for his controversial, erotic verse and his Communist sympathies.

Zackary Sholem Berger is a poet and translator in Baltimore.

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