Canto I: A Translation

Brian Diamond

And then went down to the ship
Moisheh set amongst the godly reeds
Red mud and clay, green shoots lining
The river with the hard sun pressing
July 30, 1492, tides cracked the white
Sands of their Majesties' beaches
“Issued the edict that all yids should be
Driven out of the kingdom and its territories”
So said Ferdinand and Isabella under gold
Their clothing made of Indian silk
Red and yellow dye from North Africa
Outside the people calling for blood
Under the sign of the Catholic Church
Virgin Mary painted in the colonnade
So we gathered up our homes on our backs
Packed away prayer books and jars of olives
Cans of salted meats, water, oil, and almonds
Tanned skins, wool, wine cut with honey
Packs of books, candle holders, silver
As many as each man could carry
Cast out under darkness and the moon
Only a sliver, very few stars to illuminate the road
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender
There were low clouds and fog stubbornly holding
So that one could not tell the direction of wind
But the sound of ocean lapping the docks
Our only compass in the heavy night
“How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king??"
The Sultan Bajazet of Turkey laughed,
Welcoming us mostly. Es sher zayn a yid.
Vayl es nisht Got en himel. A mensh on a nomen.

And from Spain to Portugal, North Africa,
Turkey, and Italy, the road littered with bodies
Es sher zayn a yid. A mensh on a nomen.
And the wild flowers grew crimson, orange,
Deep shades of purple as the late heat of summer
Held on into July, August, and September
Burning long scars in the landscape
Empty homes erupted in flames
Spread for many days without relief
“He has impoverished his land to enrichen ours!”
Though in Portugal 10,321 forcibly converted
Eight expelled, many more dead
Back home, houses of good stone sold
Dirt cheap and little compassion
A panic sweeping through the villages
Thick like sap from the downy birch
Planted along farmlands many years barren
Each family sang their prayers to Hashem
Burnt incense at the altar as in the old days
And we came to the banks of the Sakarya  
So that:

Translator's note: This sequence of poems is a cultural revisioning of Ezra Pound's Cantos into Yiddish. You can read Pound's original "Canto I" here.