Rabbi Yitzakh Steinmacher said,
"It's a sin to listen to gossips,
but to hear them is as natural
as to hear the sound of rain.

"The noise itself means nothing,
but to the sage gives cause
to be quiet and to consider.

"Once the sound of rain
heralded the start of the Flood."

Rabbi Yitzakh also said,
"Never seek, lest you find.
And what will you do then?"

When it is said of a man,
"He lives with his mother,"
it could mean that his father
has died or is out of town
and the son still lives
in the parents' house
with his mother.

The same words can mean
that the son sleeps with his mother.

As for the father, it doesn't matter
if he is live or dead--

but better he should die.

She discovered the secret
the month after she married.

She woke in the morning
and, finding her husband not in bed,
arose in her long nighshirt,
long, white, translucent,
lace-trimmed, and saying nothing
(why say nothing?),
started to make her rounds
as carefully as the mistress of the house does
on Passover Eve
in ritual search for leavened bread.

Saying nothing (why say nothing?),
she stood near the open door
of her mother-in-law's bedroom
listening to their breathing.

All the muscles of his face
were drawn, eyes shut tight,
lips thrust out.

As for the mother-in-law's face,
her eyes were wide,
going glassy.

The morning breeze
was coming through the open window
barely rocking the sash,
billowing the curtain in,

carrying the cackle and cluck of chickens,
the bleatings of goats, but closer--
much closer--the breathing,
their breathing.

It was early in the morning
and possibly no one saw how she
walked in her long white nightshirt,
long, translucent, lace-trimmed,
in a shirt dissolved in the sun's rising rays,
her body seemingly naked
except for a slight covering haze--
walked all the way across town
back to her father's house.

No one asked her anything;
no one in the family
debated her returning.

No one tried to interfere.

Rabbi didn't say a word
concerning reconciliation.

In silence comes clarity.
She was silent for more than a year.

Saying nothing (Why say nothing?).

It is hard to place the boundary
beyond which she went from being mute
to being merely taciturn.

During that time she learned
to express her mind
(no, not mind but soul)
in mime, which became her life;
each look, gesture or pose
was filled with meaning
like a ritual dance.

To explain everything,
she had merely to enter the room,
sit down in an armchair,
fold her hands in her lap
and sit, waiting.

She had a special power--
the closer you approached,
the more there was to her.

Within three months, David,
betrothed to her younger sister, Bronya,
cancelled their engagement.

No need to say why.

In no time she and David
set off for America
in pursuit of happiness,
as if the happiness
they found together
was insufficient.

She often sobbed
that God would punish her
for her sin against her sister.

David tried to console her,
but he had the same fear,
thinking the same thought.

Bronya was certain that vengeance would be hers,
so, when the family got news from San Francisco
that the sister had died in childbirth,
leaving a newborn daughter
and an inconsolable husband,
Bronya cried longer than anyone.

Rabbi Yitzakh Steinmacher said,
"Better a hundred enemies
than the curse of a neighbor.
From enemies you can hide,
but where can you run from a curse?"

Although, when the Nazis came,
it became clear that there was nowhere
to run from the enemy, either.

Saying nothing, why. . .

© 1996 Boris Khersonsky. All rights reserved.
Translation by Ruth Kreuzer and Dale Hobson.