Darkness, my sibling,
I have a story to tell you
Last shabbes I was chased by the law into Bed
Stuy streets for passing out pamphlets
decrying America’s uncles.
(If you see my friend Noah puttering around the fountain
snarling about rebar and secret files, go easy:
he’s just nostalgic for the flood).
I shared a single bagel with seven thousand of my cousins.
Worked in a thimble factory with seven thousand pious mice.
Saved up seven thousand rubles for a single trip to Iceland—
where in a czar’s own golden tooth motel I spent a single night.
(I slept with seven thousand types of loneliness).
America, mon oncle,
I lay before you besquandered in a pile of sesame buns.
A droop-tongued ox ventured over to deliver
good news about death. About sex the beast
could tell me nothing.
(I thought to slaughter it then and there for insolence
but I am a vegetarian though my ancestors ate wine
braised ox tongue, bruised god liver).
Ah, but the day is red like Russia, evening blue like blood.
My poem is a farm team, with milky fur and hepcat urge.
My ribcage wrapped in zayde’s heirloom snakeskin corset—
I wrote verboten odes on hoary shabbes for E. Rosenberg.
(market-bound wagons, yoh, yoh, yoh).
Reuven Iceland, you Jewboy,
I heard you went to fight Steinberg himself
After he poured a whole jug of shtetl tears onto Anna’s head.
He pulled a carrot from his overalls, gouged out your kishkes,
and then you dined together
(On rye bread and whitefish while Anna
went home and wrote poems
better than each of you).
A tentatively true story, this carp, much as any tenement
tale might lend itself to 21st century pickling. (yoh, yoh)
too Yiddishe to sleep well,
too American to read well,
too Israelite to weep well,
too Ohioan to breed (well,
that last one’s not so true.
Did you know there’re more Ohioans than yids in Der whole Goddamned Vorld?)
Give me a sewing machine.
I’d type on it all day long, write garments that even Fishl M. Halpern!
Sholem Bergblatt! the Sphas! might look unto my very stitchings
and growl nu kid, you did good.
(even Esther Steinberg, even Philip Roth-
man, even Myra and Morton
Land might say it).
I play up my yid in search for meaning. My grandparents’ folks
played down theirs in search for safety (…) (There I go again).
But let’s don’t overthink it. Here I am, pocketing all the New—
English fog, lusting after oysterlets, sharpening my sponger pen.
(brushing teeth with torn pages, mumbling to the tenants of history).
Oy, Jacob Glatstein,
I want the rains to have patienced me too.
I’ll surely grow to resent your method of smuggling leftover cholent
into your dorm at night, the smacking way you chew
(The rains haven’t patienced me, Yankel, my friend,
They’ve made me only wet. Made me only sing
shabbes poems on Tuesday).
In this damp young muskrat of a world, I just want cellphone service
even in my very bed. I want a big ox burger even if I hadda take out
a loan on my bubbe’s pawn shop. I just want my own bellybutton—
nose. To polish my laptop, to have my first oyster, to tell you about
(my family’s death).
Don’t worry, little future.
I haven’t yet forsaken thee.
It’s just that
oh Gittl, oy Fishl, oy Singer,
oh Reuven, oh Steinberg, oh Anna,
oy Sutskever, oh Sholem, oy Sholem, oy Korn,
oy Goddamned Vorld,
I miss you.
(yoh, yoh, yoh, I miss you).
Moriel Rothman-Zecher is an American-Israeli poet and novelist. Born in Jerusalem, he graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Arabic and political science. A recipient of a 2017 MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Literature, he has had work published in The New York Times, Haaretz, and elsewhere. He is the author of the novel Sadness Is a White Bird.