From childhood
she bathed him,
wrapped him up in the towel,
kissed him and tucked him into bed.

He grew until it was hard for her
to carry him in her arms.
When he was thirteen
Mother led him to his bedroom by the hand.

Fours years later,
Father, the respected mill owner,
passed away.

Returning from the burial
to the gloomy home,
with the beds overturned
and the mirrors cloaked,
barefoot, in accordance with tradition,
she went into the kitchen
to heat the water.

So it started
or continued,
who can say?

Rabbi Schraga Mendlowitz said,
"Impurity often comes
from purity."

That morning, when they broke
their incestuous embrace,
he went to the window and saw
his young wife in a long white nightshirt,
translucent, dissolved in the sun's
rising rays, going down the road.

He didn't try to catch her
and fetch her back.
He didn't even consider
staying on in this damned little town.

It took them less than a week to pack.
They, carriers of plague,
fled as if from plague.

No one knows what moved them
to settle in the Holy Land.
Neither he nor his late father
were Zionists.

Mother and son--so recently wealthy,
almost spoiled--got used to poverty,
danger and toil.

In concert with the rest,
they raised a wall
around their settlement.

They rose from the dust
along with the nation.

His mother lived
eighteen years more
and died one month
after the declaration
of independence
during the first war.

He buried her alone,
inviting none of his few friends
or his many colleagues.

Did he ever visit to her grave?

A year after her death,
he, a forty-year-old,
married (a first marriage, all presumed),
wedding a 20-year-old beauty.

They lived in harmony
despite the difference in age.

By the end of the eighties,
the family numbered eighteen:
prospering children, growing grandchildren,
even a baby great-grandchild,
named after him, contrary to tradition,
while he was still living.

But little life was left in him.
His walk was mincing;
his face a mask, eyes front,
the fingers of his right hand
traced monotonous circles.
The nation remembered
his distinguished service
in small arms manufacturing,
but he himself remembered nothing
and understood little.

She would have looked younger
but for the grey in her hair, the facial pallor.
She never used makeup or hair dye.

But in motion
she was youthful, supple,
although a little abrupt.

Only these three: her older daughter,
her doctor and she herself knew
how soon her own end would be.

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