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DER YIDDISH-VINKL September 24, 2004

The pages of the August 6 edition of the Forverts devoted to Pearls of Jewish Poetry featured Alef Katz on the occasion of his 35th yahrzeit. When he came to the United States in 1913, Katz devoted himself to writing poetry in Hebrew. Subsequently, he wrote poems in Yiddish and English. He believed that there was “poetry in everything,” including his own writing. He even turned the pain and suffering of the Holocaust victims into poetic words: “Di shrayb-mashin brent/un ikh bin in fayer./Ikh klap, mit di hent, un di oysyes shrayen,” “My typewriter burns, and I am on fire. I bang away with my hands, and the letters scream.”

What follows are two poems by Katz. The transcription is by Goldie A. Gold; the English version is by Gus Tyler.

Monat May

Grine shtralendike bleter —

Yunge ziner fun der zun,

Tsinger makhtike fun beymer

Un fun grosn umetum.

Lakhndike vaser-stromen

Feygl mit un on a nomen,

Hoferdike linde vintn

Un a kishef a tsegrintn.

Flien loyfn gloyberik

Fun hotseplots keyn boyberik,

Filn on di luft mit shtimen

Brengen tsu der velt a simen

Fun a nayer freyd —

Un di velt farshteyt.

The Month of May

Leaves of green do brightly shine

They are the voices of the sun.

Mighty tongues that grow on trees

Who sing to all — yes, everyone!

Rushing waters swiftly flow

Birds whose names we do not know.

Breezes that are truly soothing

Our ruffled tempers gently smoothing.

They fly, they run, we know it’s true

From whence unknown to me and you.

Their presence simply fills the air

And they surround us everywhere.

They bring a new life to our land

And, somehow, we all understand!

* * *|

A second poem is about Avrom Moyshe Dillon, whom Katz depicts as a modern Don Quixote.

Dillon — A Don Quixote

Oyf sekond evenyu,

Bay der tsvelfter strit

Hot er geshturemt mit zayn lid —

Don Avrum Moyshe — der dikhter-kikhot,

Geritert oyf zayn rozinante-gezang

Bafrayen di dikhtung fun gefang.

Gepildert mit libshaft

Gevildert mit has

Hot Don Avrom Moyshe, der kaysn troymer

Gehit dem royal-kafe monparnas

Hot er vi a getrayer shoymer.

Zayn vafn — nit keyn spiz, keyn shverd

Vi baym altn fun la mantsho;

A vogshol far talent hot im gelernt nokh anand

On rakhmones sheltn, oder bentshn.

Gefirt mikhome farn lid

Fargesn oft in broyt afile, kh’lebn;

Geveynt vegn libe, gezungen fun toyt

Hot Don Avrom Moyshe zayn gants lebn.

Un ven der toyt hot im gekhapt in mitn veg

Hot Don Avrom Moyshe zikh gevert;

Er hot zikh tselakht fun iberrash

Un azoy hot men im arayngeleygt in dr’erd

Azoy iz Avrom Moyshe geshtorbn mit zayn lid

Geveynt hot di evenyu, getroyert di strit.

Dillon As a Don Quixote

On Second Avenue and 12th Street

He raised a storm with songs he sang.

Let’s call our Avrom Moyshe “Don”

Like Don Quixote, who’s long gone.

He sought to champion poetry

And from its chains to set it free.

Café Royale — that was his stage.

For him it was a perfect place

To vent his joy, to vent his rage

Within the café’s warm embrace.

His holy cause he did defend

Without a sword, without a gun.

Like Don Quixote he did fend

With words that burned like some hot sun.

Like “Man of La Mancha” Dillon’s strength

Were words to bless and words to curse.

He never stopped, he sang at length

His hates, his loves this Don did nurse.

He waged a war, his weapon — song

Though oft he lacked a slice of bread.

What lived he said was always wrong

And he found joy in what was dead.

When death did grab him in midlife

He brushed aside his pesky plight.

He laughed, for he with joy was rife

And grinned and then flew out of sight.

And when Avrom Moyshe did leave with his song

His avenue did weep and the street said: “So long!”

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