Mikhl Likht, from 'Procession IV'
Proem and Poem [Adam Kadmon], with endnotes
Translation from Yiddish by Ariel Resnikoff and Stephen Ross
[Every New Poet: Proem]
My luck: I want to find the sublime, stately, sober words and fasten them to my own, imagined, rapt ones — maybe I will successfully reflect life — Jewish life, in particular: although art has nothing to do with life, against all anachronisms, not respecting Shakespeare’s pathetic and bathetic Burshteinisms (by my worthy friends the stamps “talent” and “graphomania” lie half-dusty in little boxes). — Already from the rips in the web, the contradictions. The first bite, hard to swallow, are the imagined words. Against, they stand — (with golden ateyros and kosherly braided tsitses) in old silk taleysim, wrapped in retsues, shulkhn-orekh’d, zoyer’d with oylem-habe purposes, the dictionary words. They shokl themselves methodically in alphabetically sorted rows over our head-hairlike fruit-trees, ripe.
And I want to be fashioned after nature and create the regimentation of language that would make a new order in human knowledge. How, heaven forbid, is an apple more poetic, though not more meaningful, when rhymed with a krepl than that which doesn’t rhyme in sound but is only formed in the nepl of characteristic order? And how much sin against words that, graphologically, contradict themselves, though they are wholly and thoroughly philological?
“Flesh and stone and gold and fine buildings” are more the motif of enthusiastic growth in human language than sun and moon and stars. A friend, a versifier. A reader of mine (fictive, of course) reads my stuff. I have the last word — so he assumes: written, he believes, it is lost. He does not know that after publication, black on white, of my own words, the imaginary ones, theyhazethe native-words away from the places, the highly-esteemed ones, and set up, in a certain sense, in lines (according to human knowledge) they begin to shoot with cannons and artillery from their contents.
My friend, a reader etc., stands from afar and takes great pleasure: his words, the stately, the sublime ones, accompany, run my gauntlet, whip their skin off with an al-khet lash. The critique, he says choking himself on rivalrous gall, the critique is an expert, a cousin tothat which is. The critique, another friend continues with his kind disposition, is a corrupted “that” which doesn’t know who pulled the wool over its eyes (the friend — one who is idiosyncratic, neologistic, wakes up panting).
But, Jewish life? The content of art? Huh? Listen to this curiosity: once was a people, a land … but is there any value in repeating that which history translated into goles, into need, into shameful shudders, into poisonous complaints, into begged bread? “Nu, there once was in my land, the green land in the hilly corner of the Galilee … with thirty silver pieces.” The three-pointed void locks in the story from “alef” to “sof.” “The burglary that already happened”: Is this the good news that cleaves the people to their children? — “I was sent to you by God”: Does this mean, in a sense, a truth exchanged through a lie? A bare truth through a gilded lie?
Art, says my friend (the former, not the latter) art must defeat one’s own words, the imagined ones. Art, he says, is the “I won’t be late in life,” but while here I won’t play with it, only grab at life’s coat-tails, to provoke, to rouse, so it can, for the sake of tone, bend Newton’s established laws (with “established” ones my friend makes an error!); Zeno will philosophize out the truths that I desire: my spirit will befriend all those deep, sharp, sublime, and stately words. —
So be it! I will barely succeed at reflecting life — the thom of Jewish life in particular. Art has absolutely nothing to do with life: life means the table on which I am writing now; the fly that buzzes around my head incessantly; through the little window inward-shining sun (fuller than two others, according to the tradition of sublime, stately word-mixtures: she really sets? what does she see? I doubt it); a man from the other side of the pane who rolls by in an imagined thing; the dust; the trees that shokl like a person praying peacefully — the trees in the church square.
But none of this is true.
No table, sun, person, fly, trees, machinery, no church square; but yes, there exist words stately that lull my friend, — words sublime way before the music of “The Burglary that Happened,” or “… was once [a] land — in the Galilee … with thirty silver pieces,” long long before “flesh and stone and gold and fine buildings.” Thus my luck improves: I found my way to the dictionary and
fastened the sublime, stately words together with my own imagined ones, taboo.
And my friend, a reader etc, will link them hereafter
with favorable or unfavorable critique, and consider them in relation to —
with love or gall — life and art.
Held in the ancient footlights of time —
A shake: and they fall like apples from trees
the klipos that trace a circular chain
in loud-umlaut … klezmer, as they say,
testing fiddles and woodwinds;
the noisy interweaving — a gilgul of tones
like a symphony of decadents;
But perhaps Bach or Byrdbecame wholly the one
who receives the elevation and overs the hour
that grows from minutes to eternity? …
… the klipos clatter the chain around nefesh
with demonic calm: devour! devour!
And klipos in gilgul from over — glug-glug:
the first eleven oysyes from A’ to K’
with sfiros multiplied from one (1) to zero (0),
and summa summarum — from L’ to Z’.
Body and skin: a painful prop;
tshukhonies in broth — and the eye on the calendar;
soft in the head and hard in the ass —
only the ruekh’s arrival here yields itself more suddenly.
The instrument of will and active drive,
the spirit that approaches the genuine,
liveliest, interior, most magical beam
of the highest ideal rendezvous, O neshome!
Stay standing now by the absolute One-Oneness —
Yekhidos — undoes itself in the worth of its weight:
we swing upwards to the All-Pureness
of Atsiles — to the eternal Light.
And nefesh and ruekh and neshome gaze on:
mixed-up in the physical spiritual sight
mirrors itself making and accepting and creating:
Asi’a, yetsire and bri’e.
The heavenly spheres, the terrestrial world:
the sweep of the master-magician’s wand:
His respite and further wandering
his pocket change and purse.
A living creature? You’re just like me,
a prop fashioned for his gallows-humor exploits;
and neither moth nor gander nor bison
have a yen when it’s nibbling from the Shorabor.
As you see asi’a doesn’t braid itself with yetsire
alone, but with bri’e — the world of creation;
a flawed nigun from the master, the same as from his slave,
issues from my broken lyre.
… back to atsiles — the world of light.
And assemble the ten sefiros alone,
and shuffle the letters in summary
and mourn your catastrophe, like kavyokhl, and cry.
Adonai — but better yet, let me tell you
a story about one who manages his affairs
similarly to Him and came to like everything,
everything without exception, — from start to finish:
The people, the animals, the heights, the depths —
all that, at least, He put down as a deposit.
The angered, the begged, the assembled for whoring,
the gathers-himself-treasures and it doesn’t concern him
that if one, to quiet the immediate hunger,
stole some bread and lies in a pit —
even shivering, showing, it’s audacious stupidity:
as one says to you He loves them all
— He loves!
Your father, my father, all-powerful fathers,
the plurality of men in the whole world
are the Shimens and Moyshes and Nates
who wander sad around His dwelling place.
And the women — what advice do they offer us?
What sort of thought do they come from?
The pure ones just like the impure
takhes kanfey ha’shekhina find the splendor!
It is there, as if graded under the sexual,
the sibe of He against the she.
And antagonism is engraved
in earthly creeping as in heavenly flight.
But no two-sided desire braids together
the almighty master with the holy shekhine,
and it’s not recorded whether it’s chaos
when the holy thighs and breasts possess.
No lust, no impurity, attacks from above
not either of them in the heavenly castles,
and they live, the couple, like innocent doves
and coo themselves tranquil in the anchor of keser.
Whose crown glimmers by night in the starshine?
Whose brow furrows itself from a too-heavy crown?
What once used to crown a caesar’s armament
now holds its own in the overworked hands of the masses.
And it swindles around in the head of the atik yomin,
whether it is an individual in silk and samite,
whether the janitor with his brood of sooty chimney-sweeps —
every head is crowned by keser with a station.
Atik yomin and keser — the son or the father:
The suspicion is nourished by the authority,
and one hears the other like the black tomcat, —
the majority just like the minority.
Because Keser is Keser! And it’s no use expatiating
whether you look to offer him a crowbar and a spade,
So many books written — and where is it?
Issues eyn-sofek conceived and — nothing;
of clarity and cleverness here-there a mouthful,
a concept only of that which is permitted and forbidden.
Khokhme of Zeno; Khokhme of Philo;
Reason and synthesis; no end, with a limit;
an endless world; an alme of khule;
a smidge at a time — and bit by bit!
— Sinks in the depths of all-world conception,
your words, events,sage-beings!
It asexualizes androgynous in your agon
of The One, Gotama, three-in-one-crucifixes!
The source is ancient. Your depth is moved
by creativity and deep understanding,
and the omnipresent eyes cross themselves
dumbfounded by the pair’s appearing together.
We are all separated
dictated by brains with a trace/hint of blood
in normal systems recorded/notated, abnormally:
The conceived, the completing of the thought, the deed.
Aided and doubled — the thinking and doing
confounded in an attitude of realization:
the first seizes glory widely exalted
the second means/signifies only profanation
But both will make the first move constantly
capturing the spaces one from the other
and our psyche will remain discouraged
by the narrow passage in the wide spaces.
From khokhme they make the pinnacle of creation
the human brain divided with bine:
so, routine makes the gvure weak, lazy
that would surely record in the registry: “He rises!”
. . . . . . .
Translators’ Note: The piece excerpted here comes from Likht’s nine-part masterpiece, Processions, a visionary experiment that turns Anglophone modernist exoticizing of the Jewish diaspora — from Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side — on its head. Processions brings modernist techniques of collage, citation, and formal innovation to bear on subject matter rarely incorporated into modernist poetry, including impressionistic scenes of daily life in the poet’s native Ukraine, Talmudic and Kabbalistic concepts and vocabulary, and references to Yiddish vaudeville theater on Broadway.
“Every New Poet: Proem” is a preface of sorts to Likht’s “Processions: IV,” a poem written in rhyming quatrains that veers between technical Kabbalistic terminology and vibrant slang. The “Proem” lays out, in characteristically acrobatic and ironized form, Likht’s vision of writing a poetry that would fuse — like the Yiddish language itself — the timeless sublimity of Hebrew to the quotidian cross-cultural impressionism of the Jewish diaspora.
Note on Global Modernists on Modernism
The translation of Likht’s “Every New Poet: Proem” will appear in Global Modernists on Modernism, a two-hundred-thousand-word anthology of texts — manifestos, essays, prologues, statements, forewords, letters, etc — by modernists across the arts, with an emphasis on texts that reflect on the theory and/or practice of modernism in a range of national, transnational, indigenous, regional, diasporic, and stateless contexts. The volume is coedited by Dr. Alys Moody (Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia) and Dr. Stephen Ross (Concordia University in Montreal) and features sections on Chinese, Japanese, Latin American, Arab, Persian, Caribbean, South Asian, Ashkenazi Jewish (section editor: Ariel Resnikoff), South Pacific, and other modernist formations. It is under contract to appear in the Bloomsbury Press (UK) “Modernist Archives” series in the summer of 2019.
41. Aramaic: kabbalistic term; lit. “ancient days”; the inner dimension of Keser, a level which transcends the entire scheme of the ten Sefirot; an elevated spiritual level that is in absolute oneness with God’s essence.