Encounter

Elizaveta Polonskaya
Russian
1890 – 1969

 

Morning flew by in the usual way,
Up and down streets, it raced,
Unwinding the spring of an ongoing watch
That the night would wind up again.

A coat was fastened over the chest
With a clasp and a little chain,
Then a voice from the gut: “tayer yiddish kind,
Give to a beggar, Jewish daughter.”

From under her rags she studies me
With a tender, cunning old face,
A sentinel’s eye and a hookish nose,
And a black wig, parted smooth.

An ancient, yellowish hand
Grabs my sleeve, and the words
Of a language I don’t comprehend
Sound out, seizing my heart.

And there I stop, I cannot go on,
Though I know—I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t,
And drop a small coin in her open palm
And lift a thirsty heart to her face.

“Old woman, how did you, half-blind,
Pick me out among these strangers?
After all, I’m like them, the same as those—
Dull, alien, strange.”

“Daughter, dear, there are things about us
That no one can mistake.
Our girls have the saddest eyes,
And a slow languorous walk.

And they don’t laugh like the others—
Openly in their simplicity—
But beam behind clouds as the moon does,
Their sadness alive in their smiles.

Even if you lose your faith and kin,
A yid iz immer a yid!
And thus my blood sings in your veins,”
She says in her alien tongue.

That morning flew by in the usual way,
Up and down streets, it raced,
Unwinding the spring of an ongoing watch
That the night would wind up again.

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