Circular Landscapes

An excerpt from Mannequins

Dvoyre Fogel (1902–42) was a Polish Yiddish writer of poetry, short stories, and literary and art criticism. Associated with the Yiddish avant-garde, she published two books of poetry and a book of short sketches. Fogel termed her style “white words” and aimed “to create a new lyric poetry of the urban condition . . . in which monotone becomes theme.” In poems such as “Circular Landscapes” she collapses the dualities between interior and exterior spaces and between domestic and urban landscapes.

In houses angular as refusal

pale and watery whitewashed kitchens

brass basin-oranges ripen

blue flames lengthen from pots.

And bottles like cold lemons, quiet glasses

open resigned bodies

beside hazy foreign-land tea

and coffee that is hard like refusal.

Outside, circular streets pass by,

wagons carry sweet white milk in canisters

and breasts with sweeter milk, unneeded

bend themselves over gray sweet canisters.

Suburban streets open window shutters

with kerosene tin cups, silvery round

and with herring barrels, greasy bands

and sacks of gray flour and brown kasha.

And by sidewalks and squares

circular hats rock and bob on dark gentlemen

men have somewhere squandered their fate

and go on walking.

What is longing . . . What is refusal . . .

Click here for the original poem in Yiddish.

Anna Torres is an alumna of the Yiddish Book Center’s Steiner Summer Yiddish Program and a 2014 Yiddish Book Center translation fellow. She holds an MA from Harvard Divinity School and is currently pursuing a PhD in Jewish studies from the University of California at Berkeley.

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