Also in Poetry:

Ian Probstein. Homecoming
Brick chimneys in Birkenau concentration camp
Ian Probstein. Homecoming

I enter my house in which I was not born,
where I never lived and never will,
but I remember things I never knew,
and realize things I don’t remember since
I know that I lived here before I was born
in my father’s childhood and in a foreign tongue.
Here is my father’s mother (whom I cannot,
for the life of me, call my granny, as I never met her),
goes to the market, a strange stranger,
down the Słowacki Street, while the clock
on the tower brings the time closer
when down the same street but uphill
my father returns from the gymnasium,
bypassing the synagogue, which
is now the public library, but —
is this lanky boy my father? –
he is now my son already,
upset with a grade, a B, because
his teacher told him that a Jew
could not master Polish: it was easier
for a monkey to become human, – but enough,
enough, don’t cry, my boy, calm down:
you and I have mastered quite a few languages
in the last two thousand years,
we had been led away from God by our knowledge
and mixed among the nations and the tongues
(in my own time, I would be told by the scribes,
that the Russian tongue was spoiled by the Jews)…
So enter the house: the owner, Leo Gottfried,
has by some miracle escaped (he’s now in New York);
so enter the apartment (“parter” means ground floor)
and knock timidly: “May I see you, tatus?” *
and pulling your grandfather away from his easel,
pour out to him that first offense,
and he will comfort you, your executed father
(till your own death you’ll be talking with him
and in your sleep will sing “El Maleh Rahamim”).

So enter bravely: this is your father’s home.
Then, when those who hadn’t been shot in the first month,
would be sent to the ghetto, their apartments
and houses that had belonged to the Jews
will be taken over by neighbors who will split the stuff,
and, at twenty-three years old, you will come home,
wounded, and a liberator,
but the new owners in nineteen forty-five
won’t let you – a stranger – in,
and knowing that all your family has perished,
you’ll leave, slamming the border like a door.

You’ll find yourself in Russia, not knowing
that while you were fighting for Warsaw,
Stalin and Hitler divvied up your city
(the only witness, was the stony San,
a boundary between death and dishonor).

And I was there too and I did meet those Jews
in the overgrown cemetery where the trees,
with their roots, pull out headstones,
where a cenotaph to four thousand slaughtered Jews
stands on a patch in the middle of desolation.
The beautiful city is running up into the hills, —
cleansed of filth: Judenrein.
The apartment is divided into cells,
five families crowd in one wing. No one
remembers my grandfather. Amnesia.
In that town of oblivion
six old Jews remained, the rest
of the survivors left, never to return…

Could it be that God Himself was powerless, or
was He the One who had led the six million
along the path of concentration camps
and pointed the way to salvation through
the Auschwitz chimneys? I do believe:
the world will be saved from the Flood
and amnesia by remembering Hiroshima,
Afghanistan and the small Chornobyl,
when a six-winged dove flies in with a weird twig
and perches on an Auschwitz chimney.

* Tatus’ (Polish) – daddy
Translated from Russian by Nina Kossman

* * *
The Original

Вхожу в свой дом, в котором не родился,
не жил и никогда не поселюсь,
и вспоминаю то, чего не знал,
и понимаю то, чего не помню,
но знаю: здесь я до рожденья жил
в отцовском детстве и в чужом наречье.
Вот мать отца (которую не в силах
я бабушкой назвать – в глаза не видел),
идет на рынок странной незнакомкой,
по улице Словацкого спускаясь,
часы на башне приближают время,
когда по той же улице, но в гору
вернется из гимназии отец,
минуя синагогу, где теперь
публичная библиотека, но
неужто этот мальчик долговязый
отец мне? — он давно уже мне сын,
расстроенный четверкой, потому что
сказал ему учитель, что еврей
не может польский знать отлично: проще
стать обезьяне человеком, — полно,
не надо плакать, мальчик, успокойся:
С тобою мы немало языков
освоили за два тысячелетья,
нас наше знанье увело от Бога,
смешав среди народов и наречий
(в свой час и мне письменники расскажут,
что русский, мол, испортили евреи).
Входи же в дом: владелец Лео Готфрид
каким-то чудом спасся (он в Нью-Йорке),
входи в квартиру (parter – значит “первый”)
и робко постучись: «К вам можно, татусь?»,
и отрывая деда от мольберта,
поведай эту первую обиду,
и дед тебя расстрелянный утешит
(беседовать до смерти будешь с ним
и петь во снах «Эль Мале Рахамим»).

Входи ж смелее: это отчий дом.
Потом, когда отправят в гетто тех,
кого не расстреляли в первый месяц,
еврейские квартиры и дома
займут соседи и поделят вещи,
и двадцатитрехлетний, ты придешь
израненным домой, освободитель,
но в сорок пятом на порог не пустят
тебя, пришельца, новые владельцы,
и ты, узнав, что все давно погибли,
уйдешь, границей, словно дверью, хлопнув.

В России ты окажешься, не зная,
что в час, когда ты дрался за Варшаву,
твой город Сталин с Гитлером делили
(кремнистый Сан – единственный свидетель,
межою стал меж смертью и бесчестьем).

И я там был, и встретил тех евреев
на кладбище заросшем, где деревья
корнями камни вырывают, где
плита — четыре тысячи убитых —
стоит на пятачке средь запустенья.
Прекрасный город по холмам взбегает, —
очищенный от скверны: юденрайн.
Квартиру на клетушки поделили,
в одном крыле ютятся пять семей, –
никто не помнит деда. Амнезия.
В том городке забвения осталось
шесть стариков-евреев, остальные
из выживших ушли, чтоб не вернуться…

Неужто сам Господь бессилен был,
неужто это Он шесть миллионов
стезею концентрационной вывел,
путь своему народу указав
перстом печей освенцимских к спасенью?
Я верю: мир спасется от потопа
и амнезии, вспомнив Хиросиму,
Афганистан и маленький Чернобыль,
когда оттуда шестикрылый голубь
с диковинною ветвью прилетит
и сядет на освенцимской трубе.


About the Author:

Ian Probstein
Ian Probstein
New York, USA

Ian Probstein is a poet, scholar, and translator of poetry. His most recent book in English is The River of Time: Time-Space, Language and History in Avant-Garde, Modernist, and Contemporary Poetry.  Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2017, Complete annotated edition of T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays (St. Petersburg: Azbuka, 2019), Charles Bernstein. Sign Under Test: Selected Poems and Essays. (Moscow: Russian Gulliver-Center 2020).

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