Celia Dropkin: From “In Her White Wake: The Selected Poems of Celia Dropkin”

Translated from Yiddish by Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet, and Samuel Solomon

[From the bilingual book forthcoming from Tebot Bach Press]


MY HANDS

 

My hands, two little bits

of my body I'm never

ashamed to show. With fingers—

the branches of coral,

fingers—two nests

of white serpents,

fingers—the thoughts

of a nymphomaniac.

 

 

I FALL TO THE GROUND

 

Like juicy red apples

my cheeks flare up

in the sun

with a red flame.

 

I hold on—barely—

to the tree, and not

today, tomorrow,

fall to the ground,

and when someone,

dazzled by my red

cheeks, lifts me up

from the dirt, he then

tosses me aside with disgust

and pity because

my heart is eaten up

by the worms,

and that fat worm—passion—

just won't crawl out

of my juicy body.

I am left, discarded, as it

rots me to death.

 

 

SUCK

 

You revel, I revel,

in us revels the God

who ruins everything,

who won’t forbid.

 

Hammer my hands,

nail my feet to a cross:

burn me, be burned,

take all my ardor

 

and leave me deeply ashamed:

suck it from me and throw it away,

become estranged, alienated

and go your own way.

 

 

YOU PLOWED

 

You plowed deep

into me—fertile earth—

and sowed there.

Tall stalks grew—love-stalks—

with roots down deep in the ground

and golden heads to the sky.

Surrounding  your stalks, red poppies

amazingly bloomed.

You stood, suspicious,

and thought: Who planted poppies?

A wind passed through;

you had an impulse

to show it the way.

A bird flew through;

you followed him

away with your eyes.

 

 

ADAM

 

Spoiled,

you had been fussed over

by many women’s hands

when I came across you,

young Adam. And before I pressed

my lips to you

you pleaded, your face paler

and more gentle

than the gentlest lily:

Don’t bite, don’t bite.

I saw that teethmarks covered

your entire body. Trembling,

I bit into you—you breathed

over me through thin nostrils

and edged up to me

like the hot horizon to a field.

 

 

IN SULLIVAN COUNTY

 

1

 

Today in the first light hour after the rain,

the sun shines calmly, softly on me.

The fields in the valleys of Sullivan County

stretch far from the narrow path.

Somewhere out there trees turn blue

on the mountainside. The fields are sown

with raspberries, but it’s often not easy

to eat enough of them: you quickly lose yourself

in a labyrinth of outstretched green stabbing arms,

a braided, thorny wall of branches.

Yet after the rain there are tons of raspberries.

The sun shines calmly, softly on me.

Fresh milk awaits, but I don’t hurry to the farm.

My arm tears on the jagged twigs.

 

 

2

 

Yellow and red mosaic of fields,

cultivated rows of trees—

here and there a lone tree.

You can barely see the mountain.

A world hemmed in by trees,

the mountain obscured by fog.

 

3

 

No mountains—this is better.

The horizon gets farther, bigger,

in the soft distance.

My soul wanders, aimless.

In the soft distance, it blurs

and lightens. The whole world

swims in a tender gray.

 

No world—this is better.

My eye gentler, bigger.

In the tender gray,

no world, no earth.

In the tender gray,

I swim undisturbed.

 

4

 

I went up on the mountain and saw

fields like golden rivers

and trees on them like sails on ships:

green sails on golden rivers.

Close, in a deep, green abyss,

the road wound through the endless

seeming forest—a pink serpent

twisting between green sails of ships.

How insignificant, how small

was my valley, my little green valley:

it carried to me, as on wings of wind,

a lamenting sound.

My baby was calling to me.

But I was welded to the mountain,

and for a long time sorrow swung around me

and for a long time the baby cried and called out

until the valley heard my steps again.

 

 

NEW YORK AT NIGHT BY THE BANKS OF THE HUDSON

 

Seeping from the cells of your skyscrapers

is golden honey, light,

through millions of windows,

as through the cells of gigantic honey-combs,

you can see golden honey,

human honey, light.

Immense bees built their beehives here,

a forest of beehives,

and filled them until they overflowed with honey,

human honey—light.

The Hudson at night is black as pitch,

and the honey flows

and swallows the pitch on the shores of New York.

 

*          *          *

 

Trees like these with golden fruit,

a forest of golden fruit,

gigantic cedars

hung with lanterns.

 

[NOTE. Among the more experimental Yiddish poets in early twentieth-century New York, Dropkin (1887-1956) was significant both for her exploration of open verse as a compositional strategy & for her assertions of female desire beyond the limits observed by most of her contemporaries, both in Yiddish & in English. Born Zipporah Levine in present-day Belarus, she wrote first in Russian but turned to Yiddish on arrival in New York circa 1910, where she participated in the already active Yiddish poetry world, including the experimental In-Zikh (Introspectivist) poets, while developing more markedly transgressive themes than theirs: sexuality, depression, guilt & longing, fury, violence, even at its limits the representation of sado-masochism & other taboo, once hidden subjects. Her work in that sense is a further confirmation of Kenneth Rexroth’s observation of a Yiddish avant-garde & Futurist presence in his own early years in New York: “A good case could be made for the claim that the best writing done in America in the first quarter of the [twentieth] century was in Yiddish. I don’t think it’s really true, but it is sufficiently true to be passionately arguable in one of those passionate arguments that used to sprinkle the whiskers with sour cream in the Café Royale.” And despite Kenneth’s charmingly flippant tone, the active historical presence of two languages & their attendant poetries in a single American city is itself worth noting. (J.R.)]