Poetry: History

I didn’t speak English
For the initial years of my life
This caused me no worries
No frustration or strife.
The majority of people with whom I engaged
Were likewise disposed
Navigating the new culture
To which they were exposed.
They clung to each other
As survivors do
Each “Yid” a sister or brother
Not by biology
Rather by tragedy
Reinventing themselves
Re-connecting with life.
Yiddish was the language I heard
A language filled with humour
And expressions absurd
“Zolts vaksen vie a tsibble”
An onion, no less
With head in the ground
And feet in the air
Dangling there
An expression with meaning
Yet humour to spare.
And these are our people
Weakly strong
Sweetly tart
Fiercely gentle
A history behind them
Of intelligence
And resilience
Binding us through the centuries
Through good times and bad
Pogroms and wars
We stay the course
We scrutinize
We acclimatize
We integrate
Even assimilate
For almost six thousand years
We have been, we are, we will be

Poetry Editor Alicia Ostriker comments:
I am touched to the heart by this poem’s Yiddish-inflected expression of pride. I hear in it a rich wisdom “with humour to spare,” that knows how to praise the complex arts of collective survival. Inventiveness is part of it, as inventive rhymes like “scrutinize” and “acclimatize” charmingly witness.