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.
Translated by A. Cassel