Two poems by Mordechai Geldman translated from the Hebrew

by tsipi keller



                                                 A monk asked Chao-Chu:

                                                         Is the nature of Buddha in the dog?

                                                         Ehhhh, said Chao-Chu




A car ran over the cat Chu

and I wept for my cat Chu

(affectionately I called him Chu-Chu)

as if he were my son or my friend-beloved


But my weeping distressed me—

how can you, I said, cry for a cat

while death consumes people in its thousand mouths

the land is filled with widows and orphans

and many parents lost their sons

and he who didn't die in the war died in a terrorist attack

and he who didn't die in a terrorist attack

died in a car crash, floods, fires


And he who didn't die in those died from old age or illness

and he who didn't vanish in death

is now blind and lame or scarred with burns

and all are awaiting the next war

that will destroy even the birds and cats



The cat Chu like most of the cats in our land

was a fourth-world citizen

living at the bottom of society's ladder

below the beer guzzling foreign workers

below the shaking drug-addicted whores

together with the litter-nibbling hobos


But I raised him from the gutter 

to be a domestic noble tiger

a green-eyed striped tiger

daintily stepping on pillows and armchairs

feeding on Italian preserves

and choosing to catnap with his head in my palm


Am I an orphic poet who seeks

his beloveds in the lower worlds

who favors a stone the builders refused[1]

who imports his poems from the lands of death?



At night Chu came to me in his spirit

and said in the language of humans:

“Now that you've written two poems

you're ready to forget me

but I'm a cat of three poems

if not more”

 [1]From Psalms, CXVIII, 22: “The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.”



What is his true voice?


Have words enfolded him

in murmurs

in forms

in worn-out patterns that came before him?


“Person” described him

better than “frog”

but the croaking of frogs in the night's ponds

or the whistle of birds at dusk

or the sound of fruit dropping to the ground

drew him out better than Hebrew

as Being revealed itself to him in its fullness


And at moments of involuntary openness

when fatigue dissolved his inhibitions

Yiddish melodies floated up in his mind

songs of mournful wisdoms

of a cursed chosen people of God

tunes of an exiled truth and suffering

and the rolling of the dead[1]


And at times other voices

voices of others 

sneaked surreptitiously into his secret cave

echoed in his voice and from within

infecting his voice with alienation

alien voices echoed in his voice simulating his voice

his voice at times getting lost in simulation


But was it really simulation

was there really a voice that was not his voice

as it used his mouth his palate his tongue his teeth

in order to set forth in the world

out into a vastness of odd-looking funnels


And wasn't his voice muddled up

when adjusted to the auditory frequency of listeners

who had no intention to listen

and certainly never made the effort

and in fact never could


A suspicion rippled through him

annulling any pure sound

true like the roar of a river

virginal like the note of a reed

that has just been pulled from the edge of the swamp

or cruel and desirous like the wail of prairie wolves


But always an intense pain

an absolute final truth

whose voice was a scream or a shout

a voice distilled of dross

a voice of pure pain

pure voice of pain

four final words

and the song of wasps

in landfills

[1]Alludes to Midrash Raba, 96, and the belief that when the Messiah arrives, Jews who had died in the Diaspora would roll under their graves, through tunnels and caves, to Israel for the Resurrection.