20th Anniversary Reflections
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s poems first appeared in Beltway Poetry Quarterly in a Portfolio Issue in Fall 2011 (Volume 12:4). His work is also included in two special themed issues: the Poets in Federal Government Issue (Summer 2012, Volume 13:3, guest edited by Michael Gushue with Kim Roberts); and the LGBTQ Issue (Summer 2016, co-edited by Venus Thrash and Gowri Koneswaran). He guest edited the Jewish Poets Issue with Kim Roberts in Spring 2019 (Volume 20:2).
Taub says, “After being so long on the ‘receiving end’ of the editorial gaze, serving as a guest co-editor of the Jewish Issue of Beltway Poetry Quarterly helped me understand better the commitment and skills of literary journal editors. In issue after issue, they must shape individual issues from the work that is submitted, considering not only the merits of individual pieces, but how they will speak to each other and affect the overall configuration of the issue under development. I was also exposed to the wide spectrum of extraordinary talent present in the Washington, D.C. region—to poets I had known as well as others I hadn’t read before and hope to read much more of in the future. Each had such creative, vivid ways of understanding Jewish selfhood and civilization, of writing Jewish texts. Working on this issue with editor Kim Roberts was truly an honor. I loved our spirited exchange, as we made our cases about the poems, listened carefully to each other, and then came to an agreement over each one. Few have done as much to nurture poets in the D.C. area as Kim. As Kim steps into a new phase of her literary career, I celebrate her gifts and am grateful for the many ways this guest co-editorship adventure has enriched me as an editor, poet, and reader.”
What the Babushkas Saw
Why did we not speak often of Evgeny?
Now that we’re filing into his chamber,
we are engulfed by the history of our silence/s
(or perhaps the weight of our terror).
Our shoes clamber on the unhappy floorboards.
Should we have removed them?
The old woman who let us in said we could keep them on.
Who was she to grant permission?
Neighbor? Superintendent? Janitor? Busybody?
The heaviness of our trudging resounds
like a slow-moving herd of massive land animals,
sounds even more lugubrious than the final shovel hitting earth,
than clods of dirt hitting a coffin.
Not that we would know in this case, or case history, as it were.
What lumps we are. Clods indeed.
Why did we not speak (more) often of Evgeny?
Now that we’ve lowered ourselves onto the bed, a few chairs, the floor,
we don’t speak at all. We can’t find the words.
We don’t know what to do with our hands.
We hide them in our pockets or beneath us.
We stare at the half-moons of our fingernails,
the ones which have not been torn out.
We gaze at the unadorned walls.
Have the pictures been removed?
Perhaps there never were any.
A few of us step closer to examine the strata of blankness.
What color is all of this? Gray? Brown? Of course, not ochre.
Taupe? Ah yes, taupe.
Anything but to consider he who once dwelled here, among us.
An occasional cough or sneeze interrupts the density of our stasis.
Why did we not speak of Evgeny?
It wasn’t so long ago that he was speaking with us.
The lawns undulated lush and freshly mowed behind him—
and beneath the pirouetting of our bare feet.
The lake shimmered in the light of not yet dusk;
its surface unbroken save for the water fowl traveling across it.
We swore that the green of the lawns
surpassed the green of the ducks’ heads in brilliance.
Sipping Evgeny’s grandmother’s blueberry wine,
such insistences were what mattered to us in those days, those weeks.
Evgeny’s grandmother appeared at a front window of her dacha,
her brow below her kerchief furrowed even in the glitter of that grove.
The pines, as resolute and towering as they were, could not dislodge
Evgeny’s grandmother from the black frame,
the white trim, of her unease.
Only Evgeny was not to be deterred.
He stepped forward from the froth of our patter
into a clearing, with the sun, even in its ebbing state, his spotlight.
There, he read poems from the almost-national poet,
in his own translation into the minority language.
No one had known that he knew the minority language,
much less that he could translate into it.
Perhaps he had poems of his own in that language, too.
How could a vehicle so charming be so supple, so revolutionary,
we wondered in the delicious torpor of the blueberry wine.
Even the preoccupation of those poems—
the campaign to construct a grid of courage,
the invocation for the return of nightingale song—
could not penetrate the wine’s hold.
Why do we not speak of Evgeny?
Even now, even here, in this impromptu assemblage
Convened not by handbill or broadside or announcement or invitation,
or even by word of mouth,
but by the force of the sun’s blackness,
by the impending blue of the half-moon,
by the indecorous stationing of the stars,
by the careening of the constellations,
by bones landed we know not where,
by words recited before a late summer lake
that had hushed we who could not stop talking,
even now, even here, we dare not speak his name.
We find no gesture to reshape the din of this quiet.
We will not pack away his things.
Let the old woman of indeterminate authority handle that.
Instead, we remember Evgeny’s recitation,
the smiles and murmurs that greeted its completion.
We remember the gathering of goblets
and the emptied crystal decanter,
the folding of blankets—
how its plaid squares were aligned, how its flowers flowed into garlands.
We remember the eyes of Evgeny’s grandmother drilling into us
as we made our way into whatever careless, pointedly casual
sleeping configuration we had prearranged or fallen into.
Now, we rise. We sneak an irrevocable glimpse of Evgeny’s place of unrest
and file down the stairs in our stockinged feet.
We wonder if the old woman is watching us from her room
and if she has alerted others in this city of unlit street lamps
of our visit—our last pilgrimage—to Evgeny.
Where would I be without my baggage,
those soiled, well-fondled playthings.
Would I glide through airport security
as others pummel their fists in fury, in vain
against my plexi-glass full-body condom.
Would the concierge and the porter,
having settled me in my chamber,
pore over the pensione in search of my things
only to smile in relief then shock at their absence.
Would I saunter or would I skip
down the boulevards and lanes of foreign capitals,
without map or camera
or parasol or parapluie or even sun block,
turning heads with my sprite and joie-de-vivre.
Would the City of Light adjust its glow for too bright was mine.
Who would I be without my baggage,
those markers that have rendered me into me.
Would my height dazzle necks to crane in wonder:
Look how close to the origins of rain!
Would my skin, so smooth without salve,
beckon to touch.
Would my curls sparkle as if express from nature
the better to shield the delight restrained in my eyes.
Who would I be if other yarns were spun,
if other legends were imbibed,
if other books were given to read,
if the same books were read otherly,
if other rulings on other desires were inscribed.
Who would I be if I were other than this:
a little boy crouching in bramble and dusk,
looking over his shoulder,
gathering star dust from the gods.
“Mirage” was previously published in Prayers of a Heretic/Tfiles fun an apikoyres (Plain View Press, 2013). Reprinted with permission of the author.
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of the short story collection, Prodigal Children in the House of G-d (Austin Macauley, 2018), winner of two CIPA EVVY Merit Awards (LGBTQ Fiction and Religious/Spiritual Fiction) and named a finalist for a Foreword INDIES Award in the Religious (Adult Fiction) category. He is author of six books of poetry, including A Mouse Among Tottering Skyscrapers: Selected Yiddish Poems (Bibliotek fun der haynttsaytiker Yidisher literatur/Library of Contemporary Yiddish Literature, 2017). Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music by Michał Gorczyński, was released by Multikult Project in 2014. Taub was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize. With co-translator Ellen Cassedy, he is the recipient of the 2012 Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize and the 2014-2017 Modern Language Association's Fenia and Yakov Leviant Memorial Prize in Yiddish Studies for Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel (Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, 2016). His short stories have appeared in Hamilton Stone Review, Jewrotica, Marathon Literary Review, Second Hand Stories Podcast, and Verdad Magazine. His website: www.yataub.net To read more by this author: Yermiyahu Ahron Taub: Mapping the City Yermiyahu Ahron Taub: Fall 2011