(Anna Margolin, pseudonym of Rosa Lebensboym)
Your life in folders, foldersArranged in boxes,Now I can see who you were.
Early missives from Dvoyre-Leye, in Brisk-de-Lite,Began, "My dear, beloved
Daughter, Rosa, may you beBlessed with health and luck."Spelling months the Russian way
In Yiddish, she chided youYear after year forNot writing. Affectionate
Notes from your father, and oneInked on sheets like sand,Post-marked Palestine, signed, "M.,"
Commanding you in script likeTeeth gritted to comeBack now, immediately
To the child you deserted.Twenty years laterThat son wrote Hebrew, misspelled
English, telling you when hisBirthday was, tellingThat he'd married, asking you [End Page 134]
To send a picture to showHis son and twentyDollars a month to study
Agriculture in Naples.Did you answer him?Your second husband, Hersh Leib,
Primped—officious and tidy—On letterhead snitchedFrom the office. He never
Called you Rosa; his nicknamesShrank you—ketsele,Zis-nisele—Kittycat
Mewing, Sweet Peanut waitingTo be gobbled up.You replied in neat syntax
The first half-page. By the timeYou turned it over,Demons drove your pencil-point,
Spinning the sheet upside-down.You zigzagged marginsWith rage beyond endearment.
Your third husband wrote sanelyTo you, poet toPoet, and you answered him
In kind for thirty-two years,Even after yourPoems had stopped, and you had
Stopped leaving the house,Enormous and sick.He wrote to you the night you [End Page 135]
Died. His pencil trembled onThe page—I cannotBear to read—his script weeping
To you as you turned away.Stone, pine box, ashes—You cupped fire in your bare hands.
Kathryn Hellerstein is Associate Professor of Yiddish at the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include In New York: A Selection, a translation and study of the poems of Moyshe-Leyb Halpern; Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky; and Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology, of which she is co-editor. Her new books on women Yiddish poets are forthcoming from Stanford University Press. Her own poems have appeared in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Poetry, Tikkun, Bridges, Kerem and many anthologies. She is poetry editor of Nashim and Kerem. firstname.lastname@example.org