Freeways

A poem about urban renewal

Broche Coodley was born in Podol, Russia, in 1893, emigrated to the United States in 1912, and was living in Los Angeles by the 1930s. She was a frequent contributor to the Yiddish journal Kheshbn during its early years (the 1940s and ’50s) and published three volumes of poetry: Uzorn (Patterns; 1931), Midber un marantsn (Desert and Oranges; 1946), and Nit af broyt aleyn (Not on Bread Alone; 1971). The time and place of her death is uncertain.

 

Freeways

The pensive palms no longer rustle
on my street
and birds won’t be returning
to cheer the dawns.

A faster tempo replaced the rhythm
of soft footfalls with a key of dissonance,
driving streets of sprouting earth
into far-flung, sprawling lanes
that confront you alien and hard.

On the spot where a row of houses
had found their true place—
iron bridges span
chasing the tête-à-tête chatter of birds
to far-off paths.
. . . The distances grow no closer,
but the closeness escapes to afar . . .

Its tranquility sundered—
my street stays lost
in its being-not-being fate
in its displaced disruption
and its automobile chaos din.

How can I witness its extermination—
where shadows of the past yet remain,
the footprints of my strolls erased there
where in quiet times
I confided to the gloaming
my struggles and dismay?

O, street of my youthful hopes
only you know how much sorrow
I was destined to bear
seeking comfort in words,
even before . . .
when I found the courage to spin a word,
still afraid
of shaming my stanzas.

Your pathways
led my child to school—
and there later with my child’s child
I played hide-and-seek.
From their nests
in the oleander tree and rosebush
that stood at my window,
the birds twittered “amen”
to every line of a poem . . .

Years have passed,
but still I hear an echo
of the cool thoughtful words
of Lamed Shapiro,
an occasional guest:
“Until when, Brokhe,
will you stay on San Benito Street
and where do you get such a thirst
for writing? . . .

The highways seethe,
cars roar,
bridges vault—
my street is trapped in chaos’s grip.
Perhaps it will be gladdened
that I have summoned it up.

Kheshbn #13, 1958

 

 

MIRI KORAL has a passion for Yiddish that she has been exercising for twenty years as an educator, translator, prize-winning bilingual writer, and international speaker. She is the continuing lecturer in Yiddish at UCLA and the founding director of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language, known for its Yiddish cultural and educational programming. Her original works and translations have appeared in Pakn Treger, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Kheshbn, Forward/Forverts, Di Tsukunft, and Step by Step: Contemporary Yiddish Poetry. Her most recent book-length translation is a biography of Jacob Dinezon. She holds degrees from Barnard College and Columbia University and had a long career in environmental planning before devoting herself to Yiddish.

 

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