"The Bird and I" and "Yes, the Yonder"

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  
Darkening—weak shadows  
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.

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