Poetry

Poetry Sunday: Celia Dropkin’s
“Adam” and “My Mother”

Adam

Spoiled,
you had been fussed over
by many women’s hands
when I came across you,
young Adam. And before I pressed
my lips to you
you pleaded, your face paler
and more gentle
than the gentlest lily:
Don’t bite, don’t bite.
I saw that teethmarks covered
your entire body. Trembling,
I bit into you—you breathed
over me through thin nostrils
and edged up to me
like the hot horizon to a field.

 

 

My Mother

My mother,
left a twenty-two-year-old
widow with two small kids—
modestly resolved
to become No One’s wife.
Her days and years quietly drew on
like a thin candle burning.
My mother became No One’s wife,
But all of the days and years and nights
of sighs, sighs from her youth
and tenderness, from her longing blood—
I sucked them in deep and soaked them up
into my adolescent heart.
So my mother’s concealed, hot ache
flowed, as from an underground spring,
freely in me. And now her holy,
latent lust, spurts frankly from me.

 

From The Acrobat: Selected Poems of Celia Dropkin, by permission of Tebot Bach and translators Faith Jones, Jennifer Kronovet, and Samuel Solomon.

 

Celia Dropkin was born Zipporah Levine in Bobruisk, White Russia (now Belarus), in 1888. She began writing as an adolescent in Russian and was greatly influenced by Russian symbolist poetry. She married union activist Shmaye Dropkin in 1909; they moved to New York shortly thereafter, where she began writing in Yiddish. She had six children, five of whom survived, and wrote continually through the 1920s and 1930s. In the 1940s, her poetic output trailed off as she took up painting. She died of cancer in 1956. She published her collection of poems, In heysn vint (In the Hot Wind) in 1935. After her death, her children published an expanded edition that included her later poems, short stories, and reproductions of some of her paintings. Dropkin’s singular contribution to Yiddish literature was the introduction of a bold literary discourse of sexuality. Her pastoral poetry is equally marked by ecstatic, despairing, and even grotesque elements. Her work is startling in its candor and intensity, and continues to fascinate readers [bio provided by Faith Jones.] The Acrobat: Selected Poems of Celia Dropkin can be ordered here.

 

Translator Faith Jones is a librarian in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, where she sings in a Yiddish-based chorus, the Vancouver Jewish Folk Choir, and researches Jewish history. Her MA thesis focused on Yiddish culture in Winnipeg, and her MLIS thesis dealt with Yiddish librarianship. She previously served as Yiddish editor for Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal. Her essays and translations have appeared in numerous scholarly journals and magazines. Her current translation project is the short stories of Soviet writer Shira Gorshman.

Translator Jennifer Kronovet’s two books of poetry are Awayward (BOA Editions, 2009) and The Wug Test (Ecco Books, 2016). She is the founding editor of Circumference, a journal of poetry in translation, and has recently launched its offshoot, Circumference Books. She has lived for extended periods in China, and co-translated Liu Xia’s Empty Chairs. She has taught at Beijing Normal University, Columbia University, and Washington University in St. Louis. She currently lives in Berlin.

Translator Samuel Solomon is Senior Lecturer in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Sussex in England. His book of poems, Special Subcommittee, was published recently by Commune Editions, and his critical monograph, Lyric Pedagogy and Marxist-Feminism: Social Reproduction and the Institutions of Poetry, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2019. He serves as co-director of the Centre for the Study of Sexual Dissidence, is a founding member of the Race and Poetry and Poetics in the UK research group, and co-organizes the annual Sussex Poetry Festival.

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