My Brother

By Hirsh Bloshtein

First published in the anthology “Horizons” in Moscow in 1965. (“Composed after the author’s visit to the mass grave in Keidan.”) Reprinted in the 1977 Keidan Yizkor Book. 

“In memory of my brother, Mane-Yosl, the wonderful storyteller.
 

At night or by day, when I am alone
My brother, the older one, often appears
From my birthplace in "Lita" my shtetl Keidan
Where only an enormous grave is left now
That he himself dug with only his hands
And where he and thousands of others now lie
His final cry still shuddering in his mouth
As the German bullet shatters his skull.
Yet right now my brother stands by my side
His eyes are two caverns with faraway fires
Blood curdles over his ancient grey beard
He stands and he looks, and he says not a word.
 
And as I look, quivering with a sudden pain,
My brother's form multiplies; now there are two
One stands to my left, and one to my right
And over us in the air hangs a choked cry
Like a sudden cramp that has been cut off
I stride 'cross the room; they both speak to me
And both of them put on my own body's form
I climb with them up to the execution spot
I throw myself down with them into the pits
And feel the hair on my head turning grey
 
And my brother says often: You likely remember
You, the last branch of a family cut down
How I used to lead you by hand as a child
And spin for you hundreds of wondrous tales
About shining palaces built all of water...
All this I recalled in the moment of death!
 
Recall how on midsummer evenings, I used
To tell you such stories without end or break
I laid them like bricks, putting word upon word
And instantly palaces rose there back then.
Other Jews sat around, occupied but attentive,
their mouths half agape as they stroked on their beards
This past is no more, no it will not return!
The palace is ruined, the fire has gone out.
The needle goes in and the needle comes out,
No more Mani-Yosl. The story is done!
 
O, brother! There's pain in my eyes, that is clear!
But your palace of dreams has now become real.
We have one foot over the threshold, it's true
The heavens are clearing, the horizon is bright
And wondrous indeed is the time of our lives
And oh how it hurts me that you are not here!
Your heart would rejoice like a child's if you were
And the green of our spring would refresh your old age.
 
My brother hears silently all that I say
And deep in one eye, as from a dark cave
A small flame is kindled, a brighter flame burns
As it did in those times when he listened to song
Nu, brother, chime in with your heartwarming voice
Give us all another "Once upon a time..."
My brother would smile, but his mouth cannot
Since the German bullet shattered his skull.

More poetry by H. Bloshtein

Translated by A. Cassel