For Theodore Bikel, ז״ל, May 2, 1924 – July 21, 2015.

Theodore Bikel

The children jump berserk under the piano.
The fiddle rings out, the voice comes in
of a grandfather, it was fifty years ago,
before he could have been one.

But big and deep as a grandfather’s world,
the voice of joy and poverty, of the riddle
of God, and everyone
knowing each other’s business.

Tsu mir iz gekumen a kuzine
Sheyn vi gold iz zi geven, di grine
Bekelakh vi royte pomerantsn
Fiselakh vos betn zich tsum tantsn
.

Oh, could you have seen my Yiddishe
beauty in her element. Oy yoy yoy
Beltz
. My little town, Beltz.
We’d nothing to comprehend

from our sanitary suburb, those gulfs:
how one might starve, yet sing,
how someone’s heart could grow
an ocean apart from his body.

All his sadness gave us at the time
was a chance to catch our breath
til Yakhne Dvozhe geyt tsum mel,
and we could jump with glee again.

Hup! Mayne homentashn hup, mayne vayse.
Akh. It’s a long story. I don’t suppose
you have time. It’s funny, though,
funny as half raw, half burnt dough

what we couldn’t digest stayed whole
in us, until our zeydes were gone
and we could hear it in our grownup minds.
Please, mister, koyf zhe beygelekh,

zise beygelekh…
Surely we’re more sophisticated than that now?
Melodrama, they call it,
sentiment. But it stayed clean

throughout the long conformity. A child grew
until he had a child (well, two), until he knew
what rakhmones really meant.
Di reder dreyen zikh. Di yorn gehen zikh.

Like an extra soul it kept safe for us that word
Shabbos, when all they taught us was Shabbat,
if that. Zol zayn, yidn, Shabbos.

And all our future appetites and all
the not fulfilling them. Like a map.
Like a narishe bokher who doesn’t
know how to ask about love, I soaked it up.

As for you, my dear, I know
that none of this makes sense without his voice
in your head. I cannot give you that,
because I cannot make you three again, nor would.

Someone ought to put it in a song
and you might understand, if not now,
then some when, when memory
of memories is all we have.

His voice was like the breaking of a glass
at a wedding—not the sound of it,
but baited breath and then release, the zets
un gis kaltvasser, kaltvasser, kaltvasser

eyes moist with joy, that much
you too know well, mingling
what is gone with what is dear
as we always have.

So, Boyes un Meydlekh,
one more time under the piano.
Un az der rebbe tantst,with Shnitzl Putzl,
let us barely miss the piano with our heads

we’ll shake the floor until the record jumps
until daddy comes back down again
to put a stop to it for now.
Sha. Shtil. A pintele.

A pintele.

Italicized words are lyrics from Bikel's recordings of Yiddish Theater and Folk Songs.

Italicized words are lyrics from Bikel’s recordings of Yiddish Theater and Folk Songs.

 

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