Israel Emiot’s poem “Los Angeles” weaves together nostalgia for his European prewar life, religion, and grandmother with his love and intense awareness of nature, his lonely and alienated life in America after the war, his subtle adaptation of a phrase from Goethe, his newfound role as an aging grandfather, and his overwhelming reaction to the unpredictability of time and place in a life suffused with the wonder and hazards of recovery and renewal. Written late in life, it is ultimately secular, artful, intricate, and very modern in form and content—almost as if he were talking to himself. Yet his connections to his past, to all of Yiddish literary traditions, and to his fellow writers is evident. Despite his peripatetic life, he wrote much and has been translated little.
Restless, searching, and suffering anew—
I carry a bit of longing for every doorstep.
How do you view yourself in that fresh landscape
where palm trees dress you in new green hats?
More than once you’ve outdistanced death;
but now he swims to the surface with each small swell,
as if one would rhyme bright with soul’s night
and Iberian lemon blossoms with Siberian sleds.
It is not your last labor, nor your final haven;
but say, as did the Creator on the third day—
It is good. It’s good!
Something is lacking, and much will always be,
but then, you see all colors die out in brightness,
even as they recover from their long journeys.
אומרויִק און זוכנדיק און אױפֿסנײ געליטן,
און טראָג דאָס ביסל בענקשאַפֿט פֿאַר אַ יעדער שװעל,
װי געפֿעלסטו זיך אינעם נײַעם געמעל? —
פּאַלמעס טוען אָן דיר נײַע, גרינע היטן.
האָסט דעם טױט נישט אײנמאָל אױסגעמיטן,
ערשט שװימט ער אױף מיט יעדער קלײנער װעל,
כאָטש נעם גראַם העל מיט זעל,
און ציטרינען־בליטן מיט סיבירער שליטן.
ס'איז נישט דאָס לעצטע װערק און נישט דײַן לעצטער האַפֿן,
נאָר װי אַמאָל בײַם דריטן טאָג באַשאַפֿן
זאָג, װי דער באַשאַפֿער, כי טובֿ, ס'איז גוט!
עס פֿעלט עפּעס און ס'װעט אַ סך נאָך פֿעלן,
נאָר אַלע פֿאַרבן שטאַרבן אָפּ אין העל
פֿון אַלע לאַנגע װעגן אױסגערוט.
ISRAEL EMIOT was born in 1909 in Ostrov-Mazowiecka, Poland, and died in Rochester, New York, in 1978, where he arrived in 1958. His family, life, and work ranged from the religious to the secular. He lived some in Warsaw and was involved in the famous Warsaw Literary Circle, then fled to Bialystok, was sent to Khazhkstan, Moscow, Birobidzhan, a Soviet gulag, and eventually he came to the USA. He narrowly avoided being murdered by Stalin; sometimes he wrote secretly on cigarette papers. In Rochester, Emiot lectured, traveled, edited a trilingual journal, and was the first ever writer-in-residence at a Jewish Community Center.
LEAH ZAZULYER writes poetry and prose, translates Yiddish poetry, and is a re - tired educator. She has published two bilingual poetry books by Israel Emiot with commentaries, as well as five of her own poetry books. She grew up in California but has lived in Rochester, New York, since 1968. Her Yiddish-loving parents emigrated from Belarus prior to WWI. She has studied Yiddish at Columbia, Oxford, Rochester, and with her Torontonian cousin Brina Menachovsky Rose.