Di nishtikeh megileh

God help us if we start to dream of Esther.

What Itzik warned us of is true today.
A savior’s bad enough, but one like this,
Who wins the day by–can I even say it?–
She’s pimped out by her uncle Mordechai!
Hey Mordkeleh, that’s not a thing we do.
You’re not a hero. This is not your story.

There’s something else that’s wrong with Esther, though,
And Moses too, long as we’re dissing saints:
What makes us think they would have fought for us?

Esther would have survived, her uncle too,
By being pals with King Ahashverosh.
Trusted advisers in his palace, just
The voice of reason Persia needs today.

No clever Haman would have harmed a hair
Upon their royally beloved heads.
And do you really think they would have risked
All that to save more Jews than just their friends?

So, barring miracles, let’s not pretend
Evil’s lieutenant might become a friend.

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Tsurikgeyn

What if we just went back? We could, you know.

I’m not really serious.

But, surely it’s our land as much as theirs.
We’ve been in Poland for about as long
as Magyars have in Hungary, and far more
than Russians in St Petersburg; that’s clear.

So why do we believe them when they say
that we’re the Wandering Race, like some lost dogs
who don’t know where our home is. Once, we knew!
We schlepped the golus, sure, but in one place
that we came home to sleep in every night.
That: that’s a home. Like it or not, it is.

And this Amerikeh, our golden land,
we’ve been here, what, a hundred twenty years?
Most of us less! And you think that’s a home?
That’s a vacation, by the standards of
a people who have lived as long as us.
Thousands of years, and you want me to care
about some century of growing roots?
Fuhgeddaboudit–find some other sap
to buy this bridge, this bullshit fairy tale.

What if we just went back? We really could.

Maybe I’m serious.

And anyway, di goldeneh medineh,
is it so great, once we can see its warts?
We came here fleeing Nazis; well guess what?
They have those here; apparently a lot.
Our grandparents were sold a bill of goods.

And yes, there are still racists there as well.
But when they come we’ll all know where we stand.
None of this fucking “are we white?” debate,
no trite remarks about Ivanka Trump,
we’ll just be who we are, and face them down.

And yes, of course we’ll fight for liberation,
not as the good white folks who understand
what those poor people must be going through,
but as a people fighting for ourselves,
with friends and allies all across the world
in freedom, solidarity, and love.

It won’t be quick; but wouldn’t it be lovely
to struggle without wondering where we fit?
To fight on our own turf? And one more thing:
we beat them once in Europe, don’t forget.
They’re scary, yeah, but Nazis also lost.
We’ll do it again, if our hands are forced.

What if we just went back? Maybe we should.

I’m kinda serious.

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A sonnet for Charlottesville

The ones who hate the most are full of fear.
They fight us when they think that we are weak;
for in our strength they don’t dare get too near
unless they’re sure we’ll turn the other cheek.

Deep in their guts they know this simple fact:
that there will never be enough white men
to overcome us when we choose to act.
No question that they’ll be outnumbered then.

So when we see them marching through our streets
we know their days of terror will not last.
The savage rhythm that their goosestep beats
will be forgotten when their reign has passed.

We hold our heads up high when they’re in town,
for one sweet day we’ll beat the bastards down.

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Martyrs

Note: I wrote this poem in Spanish four years ago, about events then happening in Colombia. Given the recent terrorist attack in Charlottesville it feels worth translating to English.

It’s six in the morning
and yesterday
two peasants died
in Ocaña and Tibú
and at that moment
they became comrades.

Is there a word
that lies more
than “martyr”?

Well there are no sincere words
to describe death
nor sufficient poetry
to see off a soul.

It’s six in the morning
and they won’t come back.

And I could say
that the world hasn’t ended
that the fight goes on
that they didn’t die in vain.

And although true, it would be a lie
because two worlds did end
and two fights will not go on
and every death in history
has been in vain.

Later,
the survivors
of yesterday
will search for peace
for light
for justice
for life.

But not now.

It’s six in the morning
and two men
just became
symbols.

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Estrellas

Hace años, según me dicen,
navegaban por estrellas;
y una especial que define
el norte, pa’ quien la lea.

Confiar con una no más
no habrá sido una miseria.
Les bastaba pa’ viajar,
pa’ descubrir nuevas tierras.

No era tan inconveniente;
no les traía dolor.
Pero yo he aún más suerte:
estrellas tengo yo dos.

¡No preguntes cual más brilla,
ni con cual mejor navego!
Con las dos luces distintas,
cada noche me enriquezco.

Pa’ describir su hermosura
no bastará este poema.
Su resplandor se vislumbra
cuando uno por ellas vea.

Quizás me sirva decir
lo que su luz me revela.
Cada cosa baladí
es una joya bajo ellas.

Una alfombra, un peluche,
en luz de estrellas bañados,
se transforman, por las luces,
en objectos bien sagrados.

Las luces que en ellos entran
no son pronto reflejadas.
Muy lentamente los llenan
hasta que de ellos emanan.

Desde ahí siguen su viaje,
tan rápido como largo,
que pasa por una parte
del espacio de mi cuarto.

Los rayos después se encuentran
con una botella de agua,
pa’ que esta sea otra estrella
brevemente iluminada.

Prismáticamente salen,
imitando algún arcoiris,
lo cual puede recordarme
del terreno del dios Inti.

Los colores al fin llegan
a un montón de ropa sucia.
Y desde ahí se reflejan
rumbo al blanco que ellos buscan.

Ese blanco está en mis ojos,
donde terminan su viaje.
Y me recuerdan un poco
de dos estrellas brillantes.

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In memoriam

Hace años que te fuiste
y todavía te veo en los sueños

No es una ilusión
ya que nunca me has dejado
atraparme en ilusiones

Al ver tu cara
barbuda
triste-orgullosa
contenta-preocupada
ya lo sé
ya reconozco
el sueño no me miente

Pero no me entristezco
por lo menos mientras sueño
me alegre el momento
la oportunidad
de oir la voz
las opiniones
tal vez los fallos
que tanto extraño

Y cuando me preguntas
como en cada uno de estos sueños
como nunca en tu vida
cuando me preguntas
Anschel, what have you been doing?

Oigo esperanza
y temor
oigo que tú temes
más que yo
que no me apruebes

Lo que nunca te dije
lo que aún en sueños no te digo
es que esa pregunta me dirige
me instruye
me urge

He tratado de vivir
y sigo tratando
una buena respuesta
a esa pregunta

Pues hace años que te fuiste
y todavía te veo en los sueños

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Aztlán

Liteh, Poylen, Galitsia,
Vays-Rusland, Bukovina:
You were our home.

A thousand years ago–
do you remember?–
another exodus,
just one of many,
brought us to you.

Fleeing crusaders’ knives,
a continent in arms against our children,
we followed the morning sun
into the east
and out from Ashkenaz.

And we were welcomed,
though it’s hard to think of now.
You said to us
“Come, stay a while,
put down your loads
til the next exodus.”

I don’t think we knew
we’d stay so long,
or we might have changed our name
from “Ashkenazi”.

I’m sure we didn’t know
we’d leave so quickly,
when we finally did.
But then,
you never really know
how things will end.

We grew together.
Childhood is fuzzy,
but I think I can recall:
We ate each other’s foods
and mixed our tongues.
We married, sometimes,
and later said we hadn’t.

If we were foreigners–
and we always were,
deep down inside–
we were not strangers.
Neighbors who prayed
“Next year, far away,”
but neighbors nonetheless,
at least this year.

And next year followed next
for centuries.
And “far away” did not get any closer.
And some of us began to hope,
if not to really think,
that we might stay,
that we could build our homes
instead of pitching tents.

So some of us
and some of you
joined hands and made a pact
to change this land
into the kind of place
where we might want to stay.

We changed the world, together.

But we stepped over a line.
This part is easier to remember:
We weren’t good neighbors
like before
when we kept to ourselves.

We got too involved
in your affairs,
and you started,
slowly perhaps, but you started,
to push us out.

And that push spread west
only to push back east.
Ashkenaz–
which,
in our absence,
had been reborn
as Daytshland–
followed our exodus
after a thousand years.

And
though it took some time for us to leave,
and
though we were always foreigners,
that was the day we stopped being neighbors
and became strangers.

You stopped being home
not at Auschwitz
nor at the ports of Haifa and New York.
But at Babi Yar,
where we knew,
and you did too,
that we were strangers again.

Liteh, Poylen, Galitsia,
Vays-Rusland, Bukovina:
You were our home.
Does anyone remember?

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