Poetica Magazine

Poetica Magazine



Yiddish Is Not the Language of the Dead

Barbara Krasner


It is the carp that aspires to become

gefilte fish. It is the trilled yet guttural

sound of poverty, of long, black coats

and floral kerchiefs, of a single water pump

in the market square. It is the squeal

of kheder boys jumping into the river

on Sunday afternoons, the symphony

of Friday night Sabbath blessings

on their little heads, may G-tt make them

like Ephraim and Menashe. Yiddish

is the mameloshn my own mama spoke.

It is the secret code to decisions and laments,

to matchmaker contracts, to dried chickpeas

and raisins.


Yiddish is not the language of the dead.

It is the mamashaynele pinch of the cheek,

the shoulder shrug and eyebrow raise. It is

the rush of the wind through the linden trees

and the stained-glass windows of the shul. Yiddish

is the route to ancestry, to warm fires beneath

thatched roofs and schlepping boots along

graveled streets. It is the holes in pockets

and water pails. It is potato peelings

mixed with dill and carrots.


Yiddish is not the language of the dead.

It speaks in Galician and Litvak dialects,

wanting me to know the difference. It whispers

ancestral secrets. It lets me know

I’m privileged to understand them. Yiddish

stands erect on its serifs.

It may lean to the left.

It may sink below the line.

But it stands.