In the spring of 2020, the Yiddish Book Center held an online event, “Six Lines” in Seven Translations: The Craft of Translating Yiddish Poetry,” devoted to a single Yiddish poem, “Zeks Shures” (“Six Lines”), by Aaron Zeitlin.  The program presented the poem in seven English translations by seven translators, and as an original song.  Participants discussed their readings of the work, laying out the poem’s striking contradictoriness, its combination of directness and elusiveness, forthrightness and complexity.  I found the event inspiring, and was moved to make seven translations of my own.  To do this, I followed my longtime inclination to approach translation not as a process that by definition produces a compromised derivative of an original, with whatever degree of good intentions, rather as a generative process of birthing one original from another—a process of renewal that is perhaps better termed transcreation than translation.  In my hearing, Zeitlin’s Yiddish poem contains within itself these seven English poems, at least these seven.  
Why seven?  I don’t know the Yiddish Book Center’s reason for choosing this number, but I have my own.  Following its title, Zeitlin’s poem is made of six lines, with a break in the middle.  The poem’s first three lines speak from and of a particular artistic self-consciousness:  solitary, alone, forsaken, deeply creative, tasked with futile work.  These lines give themselves to a line in which nothing is written—a line of withdrawnness, absence, retraction of speech.  And from that silence comes the poem’s second half, three weighty and enigmatic statements, or proclamations, or enunciations.  In my reading, the middle emptiness is an essential part of the poem’s meanings, and effectively forms its silent seventh line—a six-line poem in seven, which seems then to warrant seven passes, seven tries at translation.  I suppose, also, that there are other reasons for seven.  The silent seventh line at some level forces the poem to touch its most obvious Jewish numerical reference, the seven days of creation in Genesis, six devoted to work and one to ceasing, which the poet places not as the capstone of the act of creating, rather in the middle, as its fulcrum.  The reference to Genesis for me immediately gives way to the poem’s other seemingly obvious reference, the Holocaust, the annihilation—the mythic creation’s counterpoint in history—one line for each of the six million.  The middle emptiness is seated as a placeholder not for transcendence, but for the Jewish nothing, the nullness of meaning at the heart of the genocide.
This page is organized as a dialectic of texts and images, poems handing the meaning-making activity to images, which hand it back to poems in a cascade.  I begin with Zeitlin's Yiddish original and a transliteration, and then to the exchange of the English poems and photographs.  The photographs are drawn from my long-term project Alive and Destroyed:  A Meditation on the Holocaust in Time, which I began in 2010 and will publish in 2021.  The project has taken me to hundreds of sites where the events collectively called the Holocaust occurred in Nazi-occupied Europe, including scores of Jewish cemeteries.  In these places, I spent long periods of time with my large format camera, doing something rather like the “word-begging” that Zeitlin describes.  Because Zeitlin specifically names Jewish cemeteries as his dwelling place, it seems right that a few of my cemetery photographs might be asked to absorb, reflect and circulate Zeitlin’s meanings.  These photographs will likely not be included in the published version of Alive and Destroyed, and I am glad to include them here.
Jason Francisco
Atlanta, July 2020

זעקס שורותֿ
כ׳ווייס: קיינער דאַרף מיך נישט אויף אָט דעם עולם:
מיך, ווערטער-בעטלער אויף דעם יידישן ביתֿ-עולם.
ווער דאַרף אַ ליד – און נאָך דערצו אויף יידיש?
נאָר בלויז דאָס האָפֿנונגסלאָזע אויף דער ערד איז שיין,
און געטלעך איז נאָר דאָס, וואָס מוז פֿאַרגיין,
און נאָר הכנעה איז מרידהיש.


Zeks Shures
Kh’veys:  keyner darf mikh nisht af ot dem oylem,
Mikh, verter-betler af dem yidish beys-oylem.
Ver darf a lid—un nokh dertsu af yidish?
Nor bloyz dos hofnongloze af der erd iz sheyn
Un getlekh iz nor dos nos muz fargeyn.
Un nor hakhnoeh iz meridesh.


Kraków, Poland, 2011 / The Miodowa Street Jewish cemetery

1.
I know:  no one needs me in this world,
Me:  a word-scavenger in the Jewish burying ground.
Who needs a poem—especially in Yiddish?
Only the hopeless things of the earth are beautiful,
And only the fugitive things are holy,
And only humility is rebellious.

Komarów, Poland, 2015 / The Jewish cemetery

2.
I know:  no need for me in this world.
Me:  a word-beggar for eternity.
Who needs a poem—even a Yiddish one?
On this earth, beauty appears only when hope departs,
And holiness appears only in its own passing,
And only meekness sustains defiance.

Warsaw, Poland, 2019 / The Okopowa Street Jewish cemetery

3.
This is what I know:  the others are enough, no need for me.
Me:  a word-beggar where Yiddish is dead and buried.
Who needs a song—especially in Yiddish?
Only what no longer longs is beautiful,
And only what dims and ceases finds god,
And only what bows down rises up.

Stary Sambir, Ukraine, 2014 / The Jewish cemetery

4.
What I know:  even eternity doesn’t need me.
Me:  the one scavenging songs in the Jewish boneyard.
Who needs any poem—much less a Jewish poem?
On this earth, only what lives without hope is beautiful.
And only what goes missing is of-god.
And only in gentleness, dissent.

Buchach, Ukraine, 2014 / The Jewish cemetery

5.
What I know of myself:  there’s no place for me where the rest of them meet.
Me:  pleading for words in the graveyard of Yiddish.
Who need a poem—to say nothing of a Jewish poem?
Only the lorn things of this earth are beautiful,
And only what flees stays with god,
And only the meek break away.

Novy Strelyshcha, Ukraine, 2017 / The Jewish cemetery

6.
I know:  no one needs me on this earth or on that one.
Me, the one gone begging for poems in the Jewish graveyard.
Who needs a poem anyway—let alone in Yiddish?
On this earth, only what surpasses hope is beautiful,
And only what endures in transience is holy,
And only submission finds rebellion.

Busk, Ukraine, 2016 / The Jewish cemetery

7.
What I know:  no one needs me in this world.
Me:  the one pleading for words from the Jewish cemetery.
Who needs a poem—and especially in Yiddish?
Only the hopeless of the earth are beautiful,
And only the disappeared are holy,
And only the humbled revolt.

Kraków, Poland, 2011 / The Miodowa Street Jewish cemetery

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