Minsk Muck, an Excerpt

Izi Kharik, translated by Madeleine Cohen, published on November 23, 2020.

Minsk Muck is a 21-part poema by Soviet Yiddish poet, Izi Kharik, originally published in 1924. Pinye is the main character, a young orphan from the poor Jewish neighborhood called “Blote,” muck—which tells us much of what we need to know about the challenging life people led there. Through the poema we watch as Pinye grows up in poverty, experiences his first moments of rebellion against the status quo, and eventually joins the revolution as a Red Army soldier. Later, the poema also ponders the cost of the revolutionary violence on such young soldiers. In this section, after a hard day’s work as a roofer Pinye listens to stories told by his uncle about the 1905 revolution and those who were exiled to Siberia, and begins to dream about the continuation of their revolutionary project.  

I would like to dedicate this publication to the late David Shneer z”l, whose writing about Izi Kharik and Minsker blotes in his book Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture was instrumental to my own thinking and writing, and to this translation.  

— Madeleine Cohen


The sky is quiet, a chill is on the tin, 
Every forehead starry-damp and still. 
Carrying over the rooftops is an evening hymn 
Every heart echoes the rich thrill . . .  

Worked all day long – into the night and since the dawn, 
Sitting now on the tin roofs, tired . . .  
Uncle Pinye sings his nephew Pinye 
Every evening, every night, a song:  

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 

“…Today, they live in snow and chains, 
Today they are so far away . . . 

O, but what a time that was, —  
Feverish in the workshops we awoke . . . 
Strikes, — and blood, — and the Marseillaise,  
But what do you know, kid — 
     think it’s some joke?

In a burning rush, they took those men, 
Shipped off to Siberia, all of them. 
When, oh when will we take down that Czar, 
Whatever it takes, break down that door . . . 

Bring those brothers back where they belong,  
Fetch them home, the whole lot.”  

-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --  

Every evening Uncle Pinye sings these songs, 
Every evening the roof gets lost in thought . . . 



Read the original Yiddish version of Minsk Muck in the Yiddish Book Center's Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library.

Photo taken by Madeleine Cohen in Minsk, 2013, during The Helix Fellowship, with thanks to Yiddishkayt