My Ancestors Speak
Anna Margolin (1887-1952)
(translated from the Yiddish by Adrienne Cooper)
Men in satin and velvet
Long gentle pale faces silk
Fainting, glowing lips,
Thin hands caress the yellowed books,
Deep in the night they speak with God.
And merchants from Leipzig and Danzig
Clean cuffs the smoke of fine cigars
Gemora jokes German manners
Their gaze is wise and opaque
Wise and sated.
Don Juans, merchants and seekers after God.
A couple of converts in Kiev.
Women like idols draped in diamonds,
Darkened red in Turkish shawls,
Heavy folds of Lyon satin.
But their bodies are weeping willows
And their fingers withered flowers
And in their faded veiled eyes
Is dead desire.
And grand ladies in calico and linen,
Big boned and strong and agile
With snide little smiles
With quiet talk and strange silences
In the evenings they show themselves
At the window of the poor house
And in the dimming eyes
And a couple
Of whom I am ashamed.
They are all my ancestors
Blood of my blood
And flame of my flame
Dead and living come together
Sorrowful grotesque and big
They go through me as through a darkened house
Go with prayers and curses and moans,
Shake my heart like a copper bell
My tongue beats in my mouth
I don’t know my own voice
My ancestors speak.