© Copyright to Kathryn Hellerstein, 2003, all rights reserved.
New York 1946
Take, begging your pardon, all the instruments,
Perk up the ear, the eye,
Take the lovely, old fife
And the resounding drum,
The huge bass drum with its thunder,
The barrel organ with a creak,
Brownsville comes across—first number,
In a torn kaftan,
With a little lipstick on the lips.
The young tap their heels—
Tip-drip! Tip-drip! Tip-chop!
And even the dogs across the street
Wag their tails to the beat.
So grab the slender flute,
And summon the lively young klezmer,
Let there be a prelude for the Nation of Brownsville,
And let him tell us what he has seen.
Sabbath Arrives in Brownsville
Chopping knives knock out an old, old melody
From Berditshev, from Berezne, from Demir,
And the radio sings: Oh come already, my sweet life,
Your true Tsipele awaits you, dear.
The card tables stand, festive and holy,
Candles are already lit, the floors waxed,
Lips rouged, and Brownsville sparkles,
And the Sabbath Queen comes in velvet slacks.
Ah, Lekho dodi likras kale,
An old man sings with a sorrowful beard,
Forgive, my children profane the Sabbath,
And sorrow lies upon the whole wide world
Oh, Lekho dodi likras kale,
Come on tiptoes, your path is narrow,
I wait for you, luminous, holy bride,
For the last, for the very last time.
The young folks near the candy store
In honor of the Sabbath all campaign.
They sing loudly, with pure voices,
Oy, bay mir bistu sheyn, Oh, let me explain…
And the Sabbath Queen comes to them, young,
On high heels, like a cedar tree,
And sways with them near the candy store
And sings with them, Oh, let me explain.
The Anshey Tsedek— Jewish shopkeepers, no evil eye—
Delight in their own sound—cantorial singers—
And the Sabbath Queen floats above Brownsville,
Smiling quietly through outspread fingers.
The market is quiet, the uproar has fled,
The Jew with his hoarse voice has vanished,
And the wheeled pushcart has hidden away
In the clefts of the rocks,
In the stony cracks.
The boxes are veiled and covered,
A holy, mute city,
A dream descends, overspreads everything,
And Brownsville reflects upon God.
And Queen Sabbath shines into the windows:
—Where are you, Elinor?
In the candy story, jazz plays and laughs,
—Where are you, Elinor?
I'm floating here now,
And Brownsville is fragrant with lilac.
The young boys tap their heels,
Joy shines in the hair of young girls,
—Where are you, Elinor?
What do your lips whisper?
Your fingers outspread on your face?
The pushcarts rest on their wheels,
The market is an old, mute city,
The children dream in their little beds,
And Brownsville reflected upon God.
Young, beautiful Elinor,
Soft, brown silk, your hair.
In your little hat, the feather, light and mild,
Trills like a little bird in the wind.
Your mouth hums a little song,
The sadness in your eyes, tell, how does it come there?
The sadness in your eyes,
Read out from an old letter?
How does sadness come to your nineteenth year?
In Father's chair,
The wide, sagging chair,
Sits Elinor—as like Nathan as two drops of water.
Her eyes shut,
Biting her lip,
Her head of brown hair
Stretched into the support of the chair.
In exactly the same place
She once saw her father sit,
In the middle of the night—
Through the window, lightning breaking.
Outside, hard rain drops sifted,
Her father held his hands on his knees,
And his lips whispered quietly.
—You were a fool, Nathan!
What on earth are you doing?
Where have you dragged your tailor's bones?
Already rushed through a week at the machine,
What do you yourself have to say at night?
Where in the world are you?
And her father, with a weird tune,
Sang to himself in the night,
And Elinor, with closed eyes,
Heard her father's tune and awoke.
After that, she, with barefoot, knocking steps,
Ran down to her father and began to ask:
—What are you singing, Father?
Are you crying? Or reciting a song with the rain?
Her father took the child in his lap,
Counted off her small fingers,
Her father pressed her small, brown head,
And told a story to his little Elinor:
Once there was a person
Named Nathan, a tailor-boy.
This fine lad could stand no wrong,
He was such a good boy.
When he sewed, he sang his songs—
He loved the needle, he loved the sky,
He sang that all people are brothers
And that all the birds can fly.
But then came a wicked, wicked man,
A chairman, my daughter dear and little.
The big shot took away the sky
And left the boy the needle.
The tailor boy forgot his song.
He sewed in silence, glum and glummer,
The birds all flew away from him
And never returned in the summer.
Her little heart understood her father's voice,
Saw her father standing above her head,
The lightning lit him up like flames,
And hot drops fell upon her face.
Afterwards, the child saw everything in her dream,
The needle and the sky lying near her little bed.
It was a long time ago, early in her childhood,
But sometimes her father's melody returns.