Two Diaper Poems
By Ida Maze, translated by Ri J. Turner
- Written by:
- Ida Maze
- Translated by:
- Ri J. Turner
- Summer 2022 / 5782
- Part of issue number:
- Translation 2022
The following pair of poems comes from Ida Maze’s collection Vaksn mayne kinderlekh: muter un kinder-lider (And My Children Grow: Mother and Child Poems, 1954), which won the Congress for Jewish Culture’s prize for children’s literature in 1955. As is clear from the collection’s title, Maze often wrote about motherhood, including quotidian, intimate acts that were not likely to be considered “serious” poetic themes by the male-dominated literary establishment. Here Maze offers a poem and its sequel on washing cloth diapers (an activity also referenced, by the way, by Yiddish poets Kadya Molodowsky and Roshelle Weprinsky): first from the perspective of a mother, then from that of a grandmother.
I. I Wash My Child’s Diapers
I wash my child’s diapers
In the creek in the woods;
My child, my babe will grow up
Healthy, wealthy, good.
The creek is full of wavelets,
They murmur, race, and spray;
One of baby’s diapers
Swims with them away.
O bear, ye tiny wavelets,
The diaper with my thanks,
To the place where a needy mama
Washes diapers by the banks.
She will catch the diaper
Which swam away from me
To use it for her darling—
And a blessing may it be!
II. Again I’m Washing Diaper Cloths
Again I’m washing diaper cloths
For tiny lovely toddling tots;
Again, my heart, it sings a song,
This old heart will yet live long.
And little eyes call out again
Like birds in flight in early spring;
My song pursues them, light and airy,
This old heart is not yet weary.
My child—and then my child’s child,
Hard the road, and wondrous wild;
Again I’m washing diaper cloths
For tiny lovely toddling tots.
Ida Maze (née Chaya Zhukovsky) was born in Belarus in 1893. In approximately 1907, she moved with her family to New York and then Montreal, where she later ran an important Yiddish literary and cultural salon (as examined in the Wexler Oral History Project’s short documentary film “The ‘Den Mother’ of Yiddish Montreal”). She began writing Yiddish poetry as a teenager, although she did not publish her first collection, A mame (A Mother), until 1931. In addition to her four poetry collections, she also published a novel, Dineh, translated by Yermiyahu Ahron Taub and recently published by White Goat Press.
Ri J. Turner is a PhD candidate in American Jewish history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She holds an MA in Yiddish from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has taught Yiddish from beginning to advanced levels at the Boston Workers Circle, Maison de la culture yiddish in Paris, Centrum Kultury Jidysz in Warsaw, and YIVO. She has received grants for Yiddish translation from the Yiddish Book Center, the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN/Heim Fund, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, and her translations have appeared in Pakn Treger, In Geveb, and Sprachbund, as well as several print anthologies. She is currently translating Fischel Schneersohn’s novel Chaim Gravitzer and an anthology of humor writing by Joseph Tunkel (Der Tunkeler).
Translator’s Acknowledgments: Thank you to the poet’s son, Irving (Yosl) Massey, for his permission to publish these translations.