Kalman Lis: A Guest at Home

A Guest at Home
by Kalman Lis

Daybreak pecks with her blue beak
and night melts from the window,
Pidgeons move on dainty feet
and waken with fresh, fluffy joy,

flutter soft clap of wings
with their first cooing call
as sun crawls out from the hidden sky
and drips pure light into the air.

A young flame naïve and rosy
becomes shy and blushes, __
blue drops of dew on grass
blaze suddenly, like poppies,

flames flash for a brief moment
then die down…disappear…
The window pane comes alive and moves
breathing sun and breathing light.

Zalman woke at dawn today
got down from bed on his bare feet.
The fast train brought him yesterday
back home from distant city streets,

from big shattering crashes
from alarms on high floors,
brought him sleepy, and yawning,
with the smell of dust and smoke.

In a soft hat with broad rimmed band
in a tie with bold red stripes,
he left home – a country boy –
and returned a gentleman.

A leather briefcase trimmed with chrome,
a towel, toothbrush and soap,
back home to peasant mother who
recalls him playing with a hoop

and with a stick in his hand-
he is a hunter!
Now she wakens him at dawn
– many years ago.

It’s different now – spring still blooms
like before, lilacs and violets,
but now his plain linen shirt
has changed to fancy jacket.

His hands have lost their former strength
and lost the tan from hard work too,
now, here and there among blue bows
a silver thread shines through.

So Zalman came home today
after the crash and years away,
came silently ___ a mute
preoccupied with secrets.

Didn’t ask about relatives,
asked nothing about friends,
as if in the city he was robbed
of old neighborhood memories.

And mother cannot fathom
what has happened to her son,
true his collar is stiff with starch
and his tie is one that flames

woven through with red rays
on elegant silk so fine,
so maybe he doesn’t ask after folks
because that’s the custom in these times!.

The morning has fanned out in breadth –
a tea rose in full bloom,
the sun, – a goblet round and gold
floods its light on tree, on roof.

Bathed in warm sun rays
hens wake up in dust,
a rooster on the fence, a big lord
crows out his song to praise the day,

stretches his little neck upwards,
beats his colorful wings,
as if to say – “Shut up you hens,
look here, attend to me, hear me sing!”

See how I take a jump and scrabble,
and here are the grains you like the best,
I am your ruler, male capable,
your whole world with crown and breast!

And young hens black and brown
cluck away goo, goo, goo, good,
this Duce – is there any one like him
rattling around with Aryan blood

no singer like him in the world,
a ruler full of pride and virtue!
– We hens, old and young
bow our heads only for you!..

Zalman just now breakfasted –
the taste – like years ago, he’s pleased,
a chunk of bread with caraway seed
and a good knish filled with cheese,

and a glass of milk – like mother says:
“the cow” – may she be blessed! –
You don’t know, – probably can’t understand
that a cow – at home is like a guest…

The cow – my provider for old age
as long as she milks, so what?!
No big expense to care for her
no big deal – half bran, half grass,

Ay that sometimes she goes dry?!
And you, please try to understand
that writing too won’t always flow
as when ridicule drives your pen.

So son, you’re done being a writer,
and will never be again?!
And Zalman thinks – something remains
in the bedrock of his being

Once there was a “baleboste”
Reb Mendel’s daughter from Proval,
fruit of earth, dew of sky
a blessing come from Zeyde’s source.

A life of ownership and care.
a yard – a field with everything,
white geese, spotted hens,
and cows of finest lineage.

The stables of the best sort
with cages, barrels, bran and straw,
with stacks of wood up to the roof
with many pots, all kinds of dishes

There was a home, an orchard and a garden
a world of stalls big and small
and cellars, produce of all sorts
and hay in attics everywhere.

A stall with a fine velvet horse
a colt, a brisk and lively one,
that mother bought on impulse
for Zalman, her treasured youngest son.

Why should her son be envious
of the drayman’s kid named Ber
You want to be a rider, here, ride him everywhere
but know and appreciate that a horse requires care!…

There was a traditional father,
a man, of lineage, like silk so fine…
he was a speaker, an orator
turned old too soon, before his time.

He was concerned with everything
this man of devotion and spirit
– a world of Jews, – poor and suffering
so one must bring them comfort.

Around the world he traveled to many nations,
to prayer houses big and small –
and you mother, take care of the little ones
and bring up the next generation…

And Zalman sees – in mother’s face –
the deep furrows of a field,
in yellow brown late autumn light
with gentle sun in her smile

The look – the same as years ago,
more tired, darkened blue, –
– Yes my child, the years roll by
just here and now no more…

You are amazed and think: – an old mother
a modern peasant is her calling
an old worn canvas, probably
and all her leaves have fallen.

Of all the leaves a few are left
with arms – branches, thin outstretched __
No child, – the world is ever beautiful
and the heart stays ever young and fresh

And you, I hope, will take this in,
and understand, my son,
that life is truth and does not lie
and truth can never, ever die …

Mother said her piece
lifted from her heart a stone __
and Zalman thinks; my mother’s not aware
this is a lovely poem…

How sweet her words speak to the soul
Soul! …and Zalman drums on the window
– It is for this I came, felt I must
to rid myself of smoke and dust.

To be refreshed – a vase
put out to catch fresh rain, –
and who else but a mother can
lighten your load in the world,

speak with heart so clear and plain
and hit the point directly,
and Zalman thinks – oh Yiddish speech
my mother’s tongue has blessed me!