Jerome Rothenberg and Ariel Resnikoff

'A Poem Beginning with Two Lines by Likht' (in English and Yiddish)

[Author’s Note:“A lid vos heybt on mit tsvey shuros fun likhtn”(“A Poem Beginning with Two Lines from Likht”) is a translingual epistolary experiment and collaborative double-iteration between English and Yiddish poetic tongues. Mikhl Likht (1893–1953), our radical Yiddish modernist ancestor (New York and “Objectivist” based) calls out from the interstices of an expanded-Yiddish praxis, coaxing our poem into the the wor(l)d with two lines from his “poem-of-a-life,” Protsestiyes (Processions). With Likht as our key precedent for a contemporary poetics on the Yiddish-English translational threshold, we traverse in this work the semipermeable borders between our doubling mother tongues, looping these languages through one another and back again, in the form of a highly adaptive poetic boomerang (to use a metaphor Likht employed) that returns from the “other side” of the linguistic threshold already changed. This work is forthcoming in 2019 in “an anthology of innovative multilingual New York writing,” edited by Bob Holman and Patricio Ferrari. What follows here of course is our doubly composed English/Yiddish poem in its two linguistic iterations. (A.R. and J.R.)]


a poem beginning with two lines by likht

Ascent to the paradise of hearing, breath(e) hell
on the moulding of the dreamt ladder —

like dirt                                                                                                                                                    
between our teeth

the smell of

angry &

smacks of the streets                                                                                                                                   
they come from

​where ​new & old                                                                                                                                  
wares we sold            

​out to genteel tongues,                                                                                                                                     

dried & pickled 

in casks   what                                                                                                                                                                     we drink first

taints our mouths,                                                                                                                               

but fails to raise us 

further    once
the dream explodes

in shatnes smells &
boiling treyf

over noodles                                                                                                                                                      

on the stove

a pork tongues                                                                                                                                                       

prayer & catfish

proverb carries                                                                                                                                         

smell of distant

holes & hovels
men in fur-trimmed hats

& cracked galoshes                                                                                                                                                       in pools of hot-cold

bathing babes                                                                                                                                               

emerge toyvl’d

& ruddy
in muddy

oh little angels

arms slashed                                                                                                                                                                  

at the wrists

opening their jaws                                                                                                                                                                

& craws

in klezmer chorus
to what murder follows

four crows gather                                                                                                                                         

& glean

w gentile-zionist                                                                                                                                 


not dreamt
– never never –

far from any home
the home boy

can confess to                                                                                                                                                

in the star-struck

fabled town                                                                                                                                                                      

the first, the last shaygetz

​alive surviving                                                                                                                                             

in basement-attics

on leaves of zhargon                                                                                                                                    


​w/ nowhere out                                                                                                                                                ​

but the sky 

I too                                                                                                                                                                                  & you

in late or latterday                                                                                                                                                          imaginings                                                                                                                                                       

to make a new                                                                                                                                               supreme surreal

& lonely (only)                                                                                                                                            

jewish vaudeville

the archipelago actors                                                                                                                                  

we cast in 

red string                                                                                                                                                             across a chain-link stage   

their teeth & tongues                                                                                                                          

wading in 

mad galician mud                                                                                                                              

brought wholesale

onto second avenue                                                                                                                                        

& kingdoms west

a world of cafeterias                                                                                                                                       

& stinky fishheads

scratchy records bouncing                                                                                                                              

on their scratchy phonographs

from which the fathers fled                                                                                                                    

leaving a residue behind.




“kleter in geher-gan-eden, otem-gehenem

oyf di laystlekh fun dem oysgetroymtn layter —”


vi shmutz

tsvishn undzere tseyn


dem geruf fun



in ka’as

un naket


shmokst fun di gasn

fun vanen zey kimen


vu naye un alte

skhures mir hobn farkoyft


oyf eydele tsungen        

geshpont un aynge’esigte


in feslen vos

mir trinkn ershtns


trayft undzere moyln

nor farfelt undz oyf-tsu-shteln


vayter amol

platst oyf dem troym


in shatnez gerukh

zidndikn trayf            


iber lokshn

oyfn oyven


a khazer tsung               

tfile un kats-fish



shprikhvort shlept

a gerukh fun vayte


griber un khatkes

mener in shtraymlekh


un geshponte kaloshn     

in baysenen fun heys-kaltn


gebodnen bobeles     

kimt aroys getoyvlt


un roytlekh

in geblotikte



oy kleyne melokhim    


arms tsugeshnaydet

oyfn hand-gelenken


ofenen dem kinbakn

un krofn       


in klezmer khor

tsu vos hareyge geyt nokh


fir kroen zamln ayn

un klaybn


mit ivanziuniyes       



nit getroymt

– keyn mol nit –


vayt funem heym

der heym-bokher  


ken zikh bavayzn

dem shtern-geshlogtn


gefabltn shtot

dem ershtns un letsn shaygets 


khay lebt iber

in unterstn-boydem


fun zshargon-bleter



avek in ergetz nit oys

nor himl


ikh oykhet,

un du


in der nokh oder nokhteglekh



tsu makhn a nayem

hekhstn suril                


un eynzam nor

yidishn vodvil


di arkhipeligos aktiyorn

hobn mir gevorfnt


in royte tsvirn

ariber a kaytikn geshtelt


zeyere tsyen un tsungn

durkhgeyn in


meshugenen galitsianern bloteh

geshlept in groys


in sekent avenu

un malkhus vest      


a gantse velt fun kafeteries

un geshtunkenen fishkep


geritsene rekordirungen zikh berimen

oyf zeyere geritsene fonografs


fun vanen di tatn hobn geflien

gelozn iber an obzats