Portraits from a Jewish orphanage

In my ongoing translation of The Atternen Juez Talen back into “old” (ie, normal) English, I came to this short portrait I thought you might like. It takes place in Georgia (in the Caucasus) around 800 years ago, in the midst of the Mongolian invasions. In the aftermath of one battle, the Eternal Jew and his wife set up an orphanage for the children who survived. In the morning they would teach the children some Torah, and in the afternoons they would send the children out as apprentices.

Here’s a portrait of one child, and the setting he lived in.

Samson. Well, that's what he come to be called. Funny how a person lives into a name. Built like a bull, and tough as one too, like a thunderstorm that flashes from afar, threatening, but rare to strike home. But when his tears welled up you were best to run. He would sit stone still in our Torah talk, and silent as stone and probably as dull. But the butchers and porters, they all competed when they seen his arms, shoulders and neck. With clever cajolin' and callin' in debts they bartered til butcher Zev prevailed. Zev could hack thru an ox's flank with a single stroke; and cut to the heart of our Halakhah* as quick and sure. In the butcher's prayer house he was the rabbi.

* Jewish law and rulings

In the strop and hone of rabbinic thought, where every moment is seen as unique, and law must flex itself to fit our twisted world, that we might bring God and justice down to us; in the butcher's blade and the gush of blood; in the splattered fat and splintered bone; there, Samson become a man under the knife of the butcher Zev. Nor dull and cold as I had thought, the lad's heart. He come to learn anatomy of the cow and sheep, and eternity of Jewish law. But stony, still. Nor smile nor joke bent his lip. "He needs a wife." his father-boss declared for him. But like his namesake, Samson preferred the Gathly girls, the Mongol ones. Wield of talk and morals loose, and neither Mongols nor us Jews were pleased to let our children mix. More than once did Samson face a gang of angry Mongol boys. And more than once he hung the dead on poles to give the crows a feast.

And more than once our Mongol lord demanded reprisals, gold or grain. Finally the khan sent a troop to take Samson as a prisoner. But word out-sped their horse. Samson fled and joined a rebel band. Some say he became a mercenary thief. Others say he was a Maccabee.** A future ballad told his tale: The Highwayman; shot down like a dog.

** Family that led rebellion against Hellenists, ~170 BCE

Notes from a Georgian Han, 2

About a week ago I posted 2 excerpts from The Atternen Juez Talen that I’m currently translating back to “old English”. Here’s another one you might enjoy.

To remind you: the setting is a small town in medieval Georgia; the year about 1270 CE. Our hero is recording some notable events that happen in the courtyard of the han (caravanserai) he’s working in.

2.

At the gate of the han, stompin’ and screams; two wild men, hair matted in knots, beards that swallowed the whole of their face and it made their heads look ghastly large, like them demons the Tibetans paint on their scrolls. Their robes were a patchwork of scraps and holes stained and filthy and as foul as their mouths, them screamin’ for blood of some rascal thieves. With an elbow my neighbor gives me a poke:

“De-frocked Nestorian monks, I hear, beggin’ and pilferin’ and skulkin’ about. It seems some lad got the better of them.”

Curious and amused I finish the verse of *Pesukei Dezimra* I’m scribin’ for the rav, **“Supru v’goyyim et kavodo.”**

Then I wipe my quill and mosey on down to piece out the story from their monkey mouths. When I get there, one is pawin’ his purse lookin’ for something, with growl and curse.

“Here! You see this piece of shist? Genuine lapis that bugger swore, highest quality, finest kind, straight from Khorasan’s finest mine and carved by an artist in holy Mashhad. And more he’s got, that bastard says, him takin’ pity on us wanderin’ monks.”

He sticks out his grubby and scabby hand to show us a medallion, crude and dull, like the throw-away matrix you can find in a heap outside a shop for cuttin’ gems. Gray and black veins, splotches of white; some blue patches, them second rate. There’s chuckles and grunts and ‘you been stung.’

“But yesterday this here was blue as the sky, til we took it to sell at ‘Gems of the Shah’. That bitchbag dropped it in a boilin’ pot; when he pulled it out, he hands us this dungball, useless as tits on a bull. Help us find that pisspot runt that sold us this. We’ll cut off his nose.”

Then up rides a soldier, sword in hand, and me and the guys drift back to the han.

*-* ‘Verses of Song’; songs to begin morning prayers
**-** ‘Declare Hem glory to the nations’

Notes from the Caucasus

I am translating a section of The Atternen Juez Talen back into ‘normal’ English. In this scene, set in around 1270 CE, the Eternal Jew (Atternen Ju) finds himself living among unknown Jewish communities in the Caucasus region. The town he’s currently living in is Mtskheta, Georgia. It’s about 20 klicks north of modern Tbilisi. Having set up his scribal shop in a han (caravanserai) on the edge of town, he has decided to record some of the notable events that are happening down in the courtyard of the han while he is working up in the balcony. These little vignettes are subtitled “Sketches Set in a Georgian Han

Here are 2 short ones you may find curious, even interesting.

4.

Spit and strut. Spit and strut.
Surly and burly, them comin’ on.
Spittin’ and pissin’, fart and belch;
Handlers whistle, then a hook to the neck.
Down they kneel, bellow and groan.
The camel’s tale of Kohelet’s* first words.
* aka Ecclesiastes

6.

There’s a box made of stained and knotty slats
That a finger will just about fit between.
Some kind of cage that houses beasts.
I seen a guy stickin’ his pinky in
And the demons inside nearly tore it off.
Squawkin’ a racket like Beelzebub’s jinns,
And rustle and fussin’ like a room full of kids.
But I seen their owner slip in his hand
After hushin’ and shushin’ with soft coos,
And there on his finger a bright green bird
Big as a crow and as like to be mean.
His beak a wide leer, his eyes like veneer.
And just like a salesman, incessant he squawks.

“Ya hear that,” the trader suddenly blurts.
“This girly just said ‘Alhamdulilah*’”
* Arabic: praise be to God

Many notes, one Song

This is a short excerpt from The Atternen Juez Talen, or in normal English, The Eternal Jew's Tale, in which our hero has a visionary experience that he tries to describe:

We read in our prayers,* 
    “Renewing all; a perpetual day of God-Creation.
And I seen for myself that this be true. I was carried along on my rivery thoughts, every heart beat and every breath, every flickering blink of my eye, a new “me” in a new world come to the surface and then sank down; distinct worlds that bubbled and burst, and bubbled again, new and the same -- consciousness pulsing into my mind, and every mind, notes of one song: I to I, me to you, we to all, all to one; mere slivers of a slivery world that rushes thru us, seamless it seems. But slow it down and note by note it comes apart in fractallin’ thoughts.

For a short time my world slowed down and I seen its notes, one by one floating apart, each from each, and felt the Divine Song of it rejoining the slivers. River. It flows. Wonder and dismay as my eyes seen what my mind fails to understand.

For those who praise war...

The Eternal Jew hears a noise one morning. At first he thinks its thunder; then an earthquake. Then he realizes, an army is attacking. This scene in The Atternen Juez Talen takes place in approximately 1100CE. First a translation into standard English, and then the original in MetaEnglish.

And behind the forward shock of noise
The walls of dust that choke your breath
And cloak your face in a deathly mask
So dragoon and drayman, commando and corpse
All look like statues in a Roman tomb.

And this the song them dragoons sung:

We are the hollow men born for war.
We are the arrogant caked in hate.
We are the sons of pagan gods.
And we are the fruit of polluted clods.

March on, march on, man of dust.
Do what you will; do what you must.

Look on us, your conquerors,
Sharp our tongue and sharp our darts.
Look at us, above all law.
Bloody hands and bloodless hearts.

March on march on, hollow men.
Your road is long; who knows its end?

We are the wallowers, slogging in scorn.
We wallow in impotence, loving a sword.
We hide our envy in a bigot’s abuse,
And express ourselves best with a mob and a noose.

March on march on, man of chalk.
Your road is short; no time for talk.

Look on us who scorn the just. 
Past? We’ll have no piece of that.
Look on us, who mock your trust.
Future? We’ll have no peace in that.

March on, march on, hollow men.
March on, to find your punishment.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s the original metaEnglish version, with its more overtly vibrating language:

We arren hawlo menz bornen wor.
We ar the araggenz kaekt in haets.
We ar the sunz uv pagen godz.
An we ar the frute a poluten klodz.

March on march on, man a dus.
Du wut yu wil; du wut yu mus.

Louk on us, yur konkerren.
Sharp ar tung an sharp ar darts.
Louk at us, abbuv awl  law.
Bludded hanz a bludles harts.

March on march on, hawlo menz.
Yur roed iz long; hu knoez it enz?

We ar the wawlowerz, sloggen a skorn.
We wawlo in impotens, luvven a sord.
We hiden ar enveez in a biggets abyuse,
An espres ar selz bes with a mobben a noos.

March on march on, man uv chok.
Yur roed iz short; no tiem fer tok.

Louk on us hu skorn the jus. 
Past? Weel hav no pees a that.
Louk on us, hu mok  yur trus.
Fewcher? We hav no pees a that.

March on, march on, hawlo men.
March on, an fien yur punnishen.