Operating Room

Written by:
Rokhl Korn
Translated by:
Murray Citron
Summer 2017/ 5777
Part of issue number:
Translation 2017

Rokhl Korn was born in 1898 in East Galicia, Poland. She was a highly regarded Yiddish writer in prewar Poland, surviving the war by escaping to the Soviet Union but losing most of her family. After the war she made her way back to Poland and then to Montreal, where she built a family and continued a distinguished literary career, still in Yiddish.


Why so much light,
Why so bright?
All the lamps are lit
As if a big simhah
Was waiting for us.
The glare
Stabs in the eyes
And bleaches the hair.

And they dress you up,
Pure in holiday white,
A sacrifice, a still life,
Ready for the knife.

The day ends here with its bother.
Will there be another?
Who knows?

It’s so still around, you hear how a breath
Is frozen in the emptiness of air,
And how a pulse swallows the last drops of life
On the narrow bridge
Between here and there.

Or has my childhood come back to me
From old forgotten days,
With Purim-dance and Purim-plays?
Now look at them coming
In white coats and masks that show only their eyes,
All in disguise.

I try to guess, to make out
Whose mug is hidden behind the mask,
Chaim Moshe’s, or Sender’s, or the butcher’s son, Abie?
And maybe it’s Death?
Or is it Life, maybe, maybe?

A sharp sound of steel on glass,
A shears, a pincer, a saw—
The stillness snaps with a crash.

Only not to see, not to hear
The grate of metal on glass.
I am still the boss
Of slowpokes who blunder.
I can make, where I lie,
One last, dogged cry:
Put me under, put me under!
Let me loose from this flesh,
At which are aimed
The point of a knife,
The teeth of a saw.
Someone takes pity,
Someone has heard My cry—
I sink deeper and deeper
As if for me
The dark earth had torn
Her insides open.

A cataract closes
The world over me.
The lamps that burn bright,
The windows and walls
Inherit from me.
I am somewhere myself
On the other side of night.


MURRAY CITRON is a grandfather who lives in Ottawa. He spoke Yiddish and English interchangeably as a child but lost his Yiddish when he went away to school. Lately he has been recovering the Yiddish necessary to read Yiddish literature. His translations have appeared in periodicals in England, Canada, and the United States.