By Malka Locker, translated by Ri Turner
Malka Locker was born in 1887 in Kitev, Galicia (present-day Ukraine). In 1910, she married her cousin Berl Locker, who became a Zionist leader, and traveled with him to cities around the world. Locker did not begin writing poetry until the age of forty-two, when a friend who was impressed by the poetic quality of her letters suggested that she try. Over the following decades, she published over six volumes of poetry, including one in German. She also was active as a literary critic, particularly of French poetry. She died in Jerusalem in 1990, at the age of 103.
Locker’s work received some attention from critics writing in the Yiddish press, particularly in the 1930s, when she first emerged onto the scene. Many of her writings were later translated into Hebrew and French. To date, very little of her work has been translated into English.
This poem is from Locker’s second poetry collection, Du (You). The book’s epigraph—“Where can I find You / And where can I not find You?”—is taken from Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev’s song/prayer “A dudele” and highlights the book’s theme: the love that inhabits the blurry borderland between eros and prayer.
Does It Mean I Long for You?
(...הײסט עס שױן, איך בענק נאָך דיר)
Does it mean I long for you,
If a stranger’s step outside
Conjures up for me your stride?
Does it mean I hear your call,
If I withdraw into my shell
Yet music haunts me, still and all?
Does it mean it’s you I love,
If I see you by my door
And hide myself from all that’s yours?
הײסט עס שױן, איך בענק נאָך דיר,
אױב אין גאַס אַ פֿרעמדער שריט
צױבערט מיר דײַן גאַנג, דײַן טריט?
הײסט עס, אַז איך הער דײן קלאַנג,
אױב איך שליס זיך אײן אין זיך
און עס גײט מיר נאָך געזאַנט?
הײסט עס גאָר, איך האָב דיך ליב,
אױב איך זע דיך פֿאַר מײַן טיר
און איך היט זיך אױס פֿאַר דיר
RI J. TURNER is an MA student in Yiddish literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She is a three-time alumna of the Uriel Weinreich Summer Program at the YIVO Institute in New York and was a Yiddish Book Center translation fellow in 2014. Her translations and original writing, in both English and Yiddish, have appeared in the Forward/Forverts, Afn shvel, In geveb, and elsewhere.
Thanks to Malka Locker’s great-nephew Chaim Zins and family for permission to publish this translation.