poems by abraham sutzkever from the collection the fiddle rose, 1972
translated from the yiddish by ruth whitman, adapted by jason francisco
grass and human

and the one who from grass made grass
is also grass.
and he alone is alone, himself.
and his loneliness is alone.

and the one who from grass made grass
also made a self-same act of making,
this hand writing these lines.

but it was me that he missed
in his precise compositions,
me myself and the electron in the word,
and the eagle.

and because i already set the eagle loose
let me say plainly:
he was the one, the bird-king,
who dropped a quill in my honor
so that someone, i alone,
might reveal a word today
with eternity in mind.

and on the other hand,
the one who names the self human,
with two legs and one head
(and not the reverse, thanks to the lonely one)
with a smile that divides him
from the merely animal and from the grass
and from all the creeping creatures
and furthermore from the sea
and the creatures of cloud,
and the others drunk by fire––
is this human really
the highest form of being?
i saw a cherry tree smile
when below it
two human children
kissed one another
for the first time
with unripe lips,
and the wind also smiled.

i saw the face of black marble smile
there, on a hill chiseled with letters
much like the body of a wind-sculpted sailor
washed by the tears of women.

and in the desert i saw a panther
languishing beside her cave.
her belly was sunken, and her body so weak
she could barely draw air into it.
all at once, her cub slipped out from the womb
and with shining paws
grabbed and sucked, sucked, grabbed.
and like a rose opening a small fist at dawn
the mother’s half-smile
met her newborn.

after all this
how can i believe that the one who calls the self human––
with a smile for proof––
how can i believe
that the human self
is the highest of all beings?
the self is no consolation to me.
i deny and deny it––
and i denied it when i set out to find the poison
in the cabinets beyond earth, beyond grass
and beyond paradise alike,
according to the prescription
written on the leaf of a dream.

when i was in the pit
it wasn’t the lonely one alone
who gave me the twenty-two wings
so i could fly like the king-bird
over the sea of death.

i saw the deliverer,
saw the white hand in the storm––

and still i don’t recognize
the highest of all beings.
(photographs:  point lobos, california, 2014)
granite wings

the cold granite wings
buried in earth
bound in chains of earth
to the body below earth––

are the only witnesses
that he still exists.
those who saw his past existence
are different creatures––

described by unfound words
and usually buried
outside the graveyard––
the cold granite wings
buried in earth
are drawing closer
to the body below––

they feel his un-death:
a bony pair of pliars
crushing souls
in its grip––
the cold granite wings
are shuddering, and sunshowers
stream over them, soak them
through their veins––

they pry themselves loose,
loose from the stony earth,
loose from their chains of earth,
their bodies shirted in dusty green––

where do they fly?  if i knew
i’d go with them, by foot and by dream
go with them––

(photographs:  point lobos, california, 2009)

someone is winding a clock over old houses: 
veins are pulsing again.  something is beginning to stir.
listen to how his rains fall. 
listen to how the hand of his clock approaches.

his rain is falling on the river and swimming, not drowning.
listen to how the fish leap at his phosphorescence.
swallows are wise and open their throats.
listen to how his spirit gropes for land.

people are running and losing their luck.
a solitary cow chews his green cloud.
listen to how she thanks him.
listen to how the hand of his clock approaches.
pain is drawn to pain like the lover to the beloved.
listen to how they meet each other in the storm.
who does she love more in the world, and who does he love more?
the transformation of anguish is extraordinary.

listen to what the connection tells us both.
someone built for us a tower of raindrops.
listen to what the lightning-birds say:
the transformation of anguish is extraordinary.

rain is drawn to rain when the streets begin to fade,
and your body:  poured out in a different form.
pain is drawn to pain until they wed.
the transformation of anguish is extraordinary.
he is different from the way painters and sculptors see him:
the way he crouches on the sea-bottom of memory is altogether different.
he is different from his poisons, both the bitter and the sweet,
and different from the third eye that spots him on his deathbed.

he is different from the name that language gives to him,
different from his differentness, as different as weeping is from laughing,
different from his riddle and its holy book solution,
different from what the worm––his youngest brother––believes to be true.

he is different from the dust of his galloping, and different from his pulsing earth,
different from peace blossoming.
he is different from the way he looks at midnight in the black mirror.
he is different.  he holds both of us inside his circle.
(photographs:  san luis resevoir, california, 2014)