Poetry by Debora Vogel

Still Life in Glass

Between two white gray bulging scales of the world
Hangs glass fruit of space
with white creased paper kernel
of a stiff angular sun.

Every day the white kernel sits in the flesh of glass,
bodies revolve, with faces like cool flat panes
and glass birds come and go, like lumps of identical days.
First dusk. Second gloaming.

Until a colorless flat rectangle of sound falls
out of the glass containers of bodies:
like a long sigh of glazen shards.

Now all encounters sound monotonous:
like spheres of colorless glass,
like flat panes of liquid glass.

Like a long sigh of cool glass.

Still Life with Seagulls

Out of the fragrant lead of sea, which ebbs and flows
countless times
Between two suns—

round grayness сomes over seven days.
Seven days: seven gray pearl beads.
Falling one by one: the first bead and the seventh.

Gray paper shells of seagulls
Ebb. Flow. Ten times in a row.
Twenty times.

With the dawning of the dawn
until the dusk.

With a cry, so round
and monochrome-gray like a bead of a day.

How can yellow star roll every day
How can blue waves and shells of seagulls flow
and people lift their legs
when every day is a single bead
floating on the surface seven times a week.

Horse I

You are light and supple.
Like a young horse.
You laugh. You can laugh.
Then you lift your head high
like a young horse, sniffing out a beaten path.

Today the snow is soft,
breathing of fragrant oats.
And anything could happen to me.

I want to show you how to tempt me:
tell me about all your lovers.
Or perhaps have you had no lovers yet?

Were they dark-blooded, sturdy like cows,
or slender and supple like stems of flowers,
or do you prefer body’s soft roundness?
Or perhaps porcelain dolls,
with lively eyes, eyes, like raisins?

Someday you’ll say this about me:
I met her one night.
It was the fifth day
of some week
in a month like all the others.

A year-old young mare, burning
to be consumed
by fragrant snow oats,
and perhaps also by me.

Horse II

Brown horses in yellow streets:
streets with hard iron clamor,
with the yellow speed of falling wall squares,
splintering the world into a thousand shards—

Horses loving on roads that don’t cross—
what more can they do than brush their necks
and wearily breathe in the fragrant smell of oats coming from their bodies?

Then the stiff contours of two bodies melt away
into a fantastic melodic ornament,
where solitary angular surfaces, wedged and silently bent towards one another
rock in a play of lines of sad necks and limbs
on the white paper surface of tiresome days.

Sometimes we are such horses
we are nothing more:
only with moist eyes, and necks in angular embrace,
wearily, we inhale the sigh of a long sad conversation,
which broke out from somewhere

a place
in the glass globe of our loneliness.

Streets and People I

You can live like a street
like the yellow one,
tin ribbon moving
seven days a week
between foggy-gray, coffee-brown, orange-red houses.

Six in the morning
the yellow window of the street opens,
embarks on a long journey
from the first house to the second.

Four times a day
You walk to the second house and then back
to the first.

At night one turns onto a clear street,
leans against
ten yellow lanterns
longing for another.

Ten lanterns
lead the blue street to the second.
Two three four crystalline hour-long clangs.

And you become a tired street,
which returns to a foggy-gray, coffee-brown, and orange house
and wishes no more:
to be an empty world-globe without depth.

Streets and People II

From round yellow streets of twelve o’clock
and rectangular streets of milk-gray autumn material,
and flat paper streets
mixed with bodies
as wax apples, a paint is mixed.

In the yellow street
the fleshy yellow metal of waiting burns.
Hard beads of thirty renunciations in a month
fall silently from the gray street.

And the flat white street
reflects the sad paper of happiness
of daily walks in the second street.

And one becomes a yellow street
gray and white paper street.


Debora Vogel

Debora Vogel (1900-1942) was a Polish-Jewish writer, philosopher, art critic, and translator. She was a “wandering star” of Polish and Yiddish Modernisms in Eastern Europe and North America, her writing suggesting comparisons to Gertrude Stein’s in its striking originality. Born in Lviv, she was educated in Vienna and Kraków, and travelled extensively in Paris, Berlin and Stockholm, which is reflected in her work. A friend of Bruno Schulz, she was an extraordinary figure crossing physical, aesthetic, national, linguistic, and cultural borders. Given her engagement with visual arts and avant-garde movements, her highly experimental texts challenged every notion of writing in Yiddish in her own lifetime. Her poems from Day Figures (1930), featured here, provide examples of Cubist-Constructivist experimentation in a language that is at once lyrical and philosophical. Aaron Glanz-Leyeles, an Introspectivist poet, called Day Figures “the ultimate modern book…proving that Lviv is very close to New York.”

Anastasiya Lyubas

Anastasiya Lyubas is a PhD student in the Department of Comparative Literature in Binghamton University, where she is currently at work on her dissertation “Language and Plasticity in Debora Vogel’s Poetics.” She earned her MA in Translation Studies at Binghamton in 2014 with the help of the Fulbright grant. Lyubas is a 2017-2018 translation fellow at the Yiddish Book Center, and a Max Weinreich research fellow at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. She conducted archival research at YIVO to uncover Vogel’s work, and hopes to make this author’s writings available to a larger readership. Her translations of Debora Vogel’s prose appeared in the 2017 Yiddish Book Center’s Pakn Treger Translation Issue. She is working on a full collection of Debora Vogel’s essays, reviews, polemics, and correspondence, which she translated from Yiddish and Polish into Ukrainian, to be published by the press Dukh I Litera in Kiev, Ukraine.

English translation copyright (c) Anastasiya Lyubas, 2018.