By Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, translated by Moshe Zeilingold
Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman (1920–2013) was born in Vienna, raised in Tshernovits (today Chernivtsi, Ukraine), and lived in the Bronx after World War II. She was a Yiddish poet, songwriter, educator, children’s author, painter, folklorist, singer, and community activist. She published poems, stories, and reviews in many Yiddish journals, including Di goldene keyt, as well as three children’s books and six books of poetry. Her songs have been performed by many of today’s leading Klezmer musicians. In 2005 she won the National Heritage Fellowship awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
“Yes, the Yonder” evokes the memory of another time, another place, and how we might return through nature itself. “The Bird and I” was probably written in her lovely yard on Bainbridge Avenue in the Bronx, which was also home to many Yiddish singing circles (zingerayn), conversations (shmueskrayzn), and winged, migratory friends.
I remember Beyle asking me to bring her something from the “natur” when I traveled to Israel. This encouraged me to seek out the “natur,” and I ended up bringing her a pinecone from the Galilee and an Eilat seashell.
The Bird and I
A bird was singing
or shouting at me,
Started when I got to the yard,
burst out in melody.
I answer back, my garden, my space!
He hollers at me,
He contends—it’s his place.
I sit at the table to write or to read
he sings, peeps—
I don’t understand him at all
But the garden and the greenery is speaking surely
I can hear it in the silence—deep as the sea
a quiet that boils and cooks—a thrum
and the bird accompanies with a peep and hum
and I—can shut up now,
it’s enough for me to hear
but it drives me mad, my head hurts, I swear.
Yes, the Yonder
Those fields—warm green
Stretching themselves, sun-drenched
Those pines at the side of the road
Rivulets, welling up fresh in the valley
Clear, quiet, whispering
Even snakes there
Thin, quietly slithering to themselves
That sun—how young and clever she was,
Loquacious…and is she still?
Perhaps just those alleyways
When I put my ear
To the seashells
Which capture all sounds from afar
What can I hear?
What can I pick up?
Just the days—those days
Certainly they were better
Stones over there—were promenades
Brighter and happier,
Yes, the yonder,
The once was…
Moshe Zeilingold is translating a collection of poems by Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman as a Yiddish Book Center translation fellow. He has translated Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation into Yiddish, and he completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. He also serves as the director of the Sholem Aleichem Cultural Center in the Bronx.