Berish Weinstein (1905-1967)

Irving Howe, Ruth R. Wisse and Khome Shmeruk (eds.): «The Penguin Book of Modern Yiddish Verse», Penguin Books, 1988. Copyright © Irving Howe, Ruth Wisse, and Chone Shmeruk, 1987. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The rushing ax cools and bleeds; the ax drips,
And necks, at its edge, split and rebound;
The gash at the gleaming cut is dimmed with steam;
And blood drains swiftly away from the cold steel.

In prison cells, bodies are branded with dark blue swellings.
Clothes fall apart beneath the flaying switch
And under a cold sweat, bellies quiver.
Wounds drain and congeal to raw meat.

To keep its fine edge, the ax is thrust in the ground.
So it will shine when it's held to the spurting sun;
Held over white sifted sands, over freshly planed boards
On which the newly shaved heards, their eyes wide open,
Their necks cleanly washed, and warmly unbuttoned, will bounce.

The wound of decapitation's extinguished in sand;
Teeth clench the lips; the still living temples throb.
Through its covering cloth, the body continues to breathe.
Sometimes, a foot or a hand tries to live; the fingers, watching, die.
Executioners scrub off the spots and neatly adjust their clothes.
Through the nailed-shut doors of Wedding the night yells with a Jewish girl.

Again, delicate and white, the ax darkens against a beam;
At the grave of a fresh corpse, a spade still crunches crisp earth.
Germany, 1933

(from the Yiddish by Leonard Wolf)


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