Excerpts from "Nine Months" and "Birth"

Esther Shumiatcher-Hirschbein (1899–1985) was born in Gomel, present-day Belarus, and immigrated to Calgary at an early age. There she met and married the Yiddish dramatist and playwright Peretz Hirschbein, who ardently supported her artistic endeavors. Her prolific output in verse touches upon the political, the erotic, the maternal, and the experiences of grief, mourning, and loss. These excerpts are from her birth poetry cycle, a groundbreaking work that delves into pregnancy and childbirth, subjects rarely explored in the early modernist literary canon. The poems celebrate the pleasures of childbirth and, more remarkably, they give voice to the dark thoughts and harsh realities that were, for Shumiatcher-Hirschbein, inextricably linked with it.

 

Nine Months

VI

When you don’t speak to me for a day,

my heart shudders.

Have my sinister thoughts shamed you?

Have my words sinned against your coming?

Or have you buried yourself in my sorrow,

consumed my vagrant joy?

Why do you torture me with silence?

My blood screams doubt.

Click here for the original poem in Yiddish.

 

Birth

I

I drive against the sky, against the stars,

my flesh anguished, bursting with tears.

I clench my teeth,

barely move my lips—

ribs separate violently.

My blood rejoices,

my heart beats up to the stars:

I must become a mother.

II

Sky chases after me,

stars scatter above.

Sharp spears pierce my limbs,

a star breaks off,

marks the sky fiery.

Push after push, flames,

my back searing.

Life in my hands,

I writhe in agony.

My body becomes

a thousand-eyed being,

limbs look on feverishly.

The earth shakes,

body and soul shiver.

My limbs thrash

back and forth,

earthquake

October 3, 1934.

* * *

V

The day is airy, sheer.

My life glimmering, I sing.

Fields rising, stones speak—

I hear my newborn’s shriek.

Sun arrives with a pail of gold,

repaying all my pain with joy.

I kiss the child’s tears,

shut my eyes:

I, in peace with eternity.

*

The hospital is alive with song.

Like a river in spring

life rushes, roaring,

blood of the just-born singing—

brilliant news.

My newborn bliss glows with shame.

Oh, my young joy—

new earth, new sky,

dressed in blood and bone.

Outside my window

life blossomed.

Autumn shouts its song,

my young spring beside me.

I became a mother

to a blond son.

Today I bore life,

in dream, in reality.

Golden October flames

illuminate thinning fields,

my son, my blond fire,

miracle of my flesh!

Click here for the original poem in Yiddish.

Beata Kasiarz is a 2014 Yiddish Book Center translation fellow. She is currently completing an MFA in poetry at Brown University.

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