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  • The Horizon Blossoms and the Borders Vanish:Peretz Markish's Poetry and Anarchist Diasporism
  • Anna Elena Torres (bio)

Hours before his arrest at Stalin's order on January 27, 1949, the Soviet Yiddish poet Peretz Markish gave his wife Esther Markish several manuscripts. Among these was Der fertsikyeriker man (The Man of Forty), a virtuosic and densely enigmatic eighty-page poem. Divided into two books, the poem moves from Expressionist scenes of war and revolution to visions of borderless space, radical temporality, and erotic liberation. Its regular amphibrachic tetrameter stabilizes Markish's extravagant metaphors and abstractions within a tightly-corseted form. As he handed her the documents, Markish told his wife: "[The Man of Forty] is the best thing I've ever done. I want you to take special care of it."1

Esther Markish arranged for a cousin to smuggle the manuscripts out in a potato sack, saving work that her husband had begun in 1922 and continually rewrote over twenty-seven years. Esther Markish reclaimed the manuscript from its hiding place in Baku in 1954 when she was returning from exile. The Yiddish poem was finally published in 1978 in Tel Aviv, where Esther Markish settled.2 The Man of Forty pulses with the sounds and images of unfinished insurgency, as in these lines: [End Page 458]

Tsebrokhn di zeygers fun kroynshtot3 un shtet, Smashed are the clocks of capital and cities,
Tsebrokhn der seyder fun sho'en un teg! Smashed is the order of hours and days!
Un ibergekert oyf der anderer zayt Overturned, the calendar hangs
Shoyn hengt kalender un er dart un er tayet. on the other side, withering, melting.
Es lign di teg in gevalger fun brokh Days wallow in the scatter of rupture—
Un vu iz do shabes, un vu iz do vokh? where is the sabbath, where is the week?
Oysgemisht ale vi zangen in shnit All mixed like sheaves at harvest
Iz velkher den zuntik, un velkher—nit4 Which then is Sunday, which is not?5

For decades, Markish had kept the poem hidden deep in the drawer of his writing desk and refused to show it to anyone, fearing the state response to his poem's subversion of Communist Party politics.6 Chana Kronfeld writes, "[The Man of Forty is] at once his most Jewish and his most anarchist book, and I believe it is the key to his life's work."7 At its core, anarchism is a credo opposing all states, whether left- or right-wing regimes; its constellation of aspirations includes imagining and working toward a world without borders, an ethics of consensus, and bodily autonomy. It differs from other leftist movements in opposing nationalism just as strongly as capitalism, considering the state to be violent in any form, and aiming to transform social relations through the cultivation of full comradeship. The anarchism of Markish's poem may be located in its poetic defiance of totalitarianism, its exuberant subversion of state Communist iconography, and its central concern with the figure of the refugee. Against the USSR's policy of closed borders, the poem abolishes all borders of time and territory, proliferating visions of mass movement [End Page 459] across vast space: Tsebrokhn der shter un tsevolgert di tsam—/Mir konen shoyn geyen iber luft, iber yam. // Nito iz keyn eygns, nito iz keyn fremd, / Vel ikh oyston dem troyer vi kh'tu oys a hemd: "The obstacle's smashed and the border's demolished / We can pass now through air, over sea. // Property is no more, there's no ours, no theirs / I take off my grief as I take off my shirt."8 The phrase Nito iz keyn eygns, nito iz keyn fremd links the abolition of personal property ("there's no ours") with border dissolution, as fremd signifies both ownership and foreign territory or otherness.

Markish's poetics were shaped by the force of censorship. His writing is textured by biblical intertextuality and loshn-koydesh, the Hebrew and Aramaic linguistic component of Yiddish rendered taboo by Soviet language reform programs.9 A recently declassified 1949 report to Stalin urged the dismantling of Jewish writing associations and cited Markish for expressing "nationalist tendencies...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1553-0604
Print ISSN
0021-6682
Pages
pp. 458-490
Launched on MUSE
2020-08-25
Open Access
No
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