Today I Saw Mikhoels
Translated from the Yiddish by Maia Evrona
Today I saw Mikhoels, a hole in his skull – an order of honor.
He performs the scene for my sake: King Lear in the storm.
A dead king shines forth, now that he can never be murdered,
and a gust of snow laughs in mockery, laughs at this master of suffering.
No daughters have driven away their Job-like king,
only sons and senselessness, long recognized from a revelation.
And a gust of snow laughs in mockery, makes him seem ridiculous,
a white gust of snow dressed up in a black pair of heavy boots.
With fingers curled into a beak, the king drills
the laughing snow and his madness, its echo, into his skull.
And here is a rescued king, majestic, noble,
and a crease is born on the brow of a Gaon.
I am the only one in this hall and the sole actor is Mikhoels.
My daughters have not betrayed me—he trembles before me:
My daughters sailed for the shores
Read Abraham Sutzkever’s “Today I Saw Mikhoels” translated by Maia Evrona in the print edition of The Arkansas International 7.
Abraham Sutzkever, born in 1913 in modern-day Belarus, is a legendary figure of the Yiddish literary world, with a poetic oeuvre numbering well over 1,000 pages. A survivor of the Vilna Ghetto and a former partisan, he immigrated to Mandatory Palestine just before the founding of the State of Israel and passed away in Tel Aviv in 2010, at the age of 96. The poems included here are taken from his 1985 collection Poems from My Diary.
Maia Evrona’s poems, as well as excerpts from her memoir on growing up with a chronic illness, have appeared in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and elsewhere. Her poetry has been supported with a Fulbright Scholar Award to Spain and Greece, while her translations of Abraham Sutzkever were awarded a 2016 Translation Fellowship from the NEA.