The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 9 no. 1


Baron Wormser

For the Yiddish Poets


Poof poof poof! Languages people cities
Gone in the breadth of a cat’s whisker,
Gone in a tyrant’s belch,
Gone in a terse goodnight.
I blinked one morning while getting out of bed and
A phrase I had honed for three insomniac hours
Vanished. Where is the tissue paper of eternity
That might wrap our hapless largesse?

Poof poof poof!
I sneezed on the el and my droplets dispersed
Among the throng of grunting, shaky humanity.
In two weeks a fever fells a butcher in the Bronx.
“Never been sick a day in his murderous life,”
his wife swears it over coffee to
a neighbor who shakes her head and mumbles a prayer.

Poof poof poof!
Typhoid Annie was a Jew, one of the prophets
Who is awaiting entry into the latter day Torah,
One of the festering saints who polished
Misfortune till it glowed like a malignant ruby.

Poof poof poof!
My huzzahs have a Fourth-of-July goyishe,
Patriotic, shikse-loving ring to them.
My tongue hungers for blueberry pie, ballpark hotdogs,
The tangy, cloying fizz of a slightly warm cola.
My tongue greets English with the vociferous
Friendliness of a vote-cadging alderman. I favor
Mongrel languages spoken by demonstrative recalcitrants.

Poof poof poof!
I spill a little coffee on the counter of a restaurant
On Second Avenue and within seconds a waitress
Smiles at my idiocy and wipes the surface clean
With a damp cloth she can twirl like a rope.
What might emerge from those drops? They disappear no more
Than the souls of our forebears disappeared, than our tears
In Egypt disappeared, than our house in the Pale of Settlement
That was torched in a pogrom disappeared. Are you acquainted
With ashes? They rise in the air but then they settle
On the earth, they are underfoot this very moment.
They are speaking to one another. Whether you know
Their language or not is immaterial. They know yours.

Poof poof poof!
Sorrow dissolves into the joy of daylight, the horns of
The taxicabs, a fat old guy standing on a streetcorner puffing
On a cigar, a poet clairvoyant with passion thrusting a piece of
Paper into a friend’s hand. Read this read this read this!