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Itskhk Berliner , mexikan dikhter

27 October 2015

Sombrero tip to Esther Klein Buddenhagen.

As with so many of our hemisphere’s intellectuals in the first half of the last century, his cultural foundation was laid as a European survivor of that insane blood bath known as the First World War.   Born in 1899, Isaac (Itskhk) Berliner served in the German Army in a labor battalion, experiences reflected in the poems published in Yiddish magazines in has native Poland during and just after the War.   He emigrated to Mexico in 1922, at a time when Mexico City was rapidly changing, with refugees not just from Europe, but from the rural countryside following the Revolution, pouring into the metropolis.   Ironically his work as a street vendor selling rosaries, Virgin of Guadalupe and saints medals4846-31, positioned Berliner — a Polish-born Jew, writing in Yiddish — to capture the essence of what it meant to be a Chilango in those years.  Or a human being in a changing world, for that matter.  While the Jew has always been seen as an outsider in European culture,  the shared experience of losing a traditional culture and forced into a new and bewildering way of life, in a city reinventing itself during the “cultural revolution” that followed the political chaos of the political revolution, was something he shared with his customers and acquaintances:  campesinos turned factory workers, displaced Indigenous-language speakers, his fellow displaced Europeans.

His poems, stories, and essays were widely printed in his lifetime… in Yiddish publications in Poland, the United States, Belgium, Argentina and Mexico.  Although he lived modestly, he was a figure of high repute within the Mexican intellectual community.  His best known work, Shtot un palatsn (1936)was illustrated by his friend and fellow intellectual, Diego Rivera (English translation as “City of Palaces” published in 1996).

Although not much translated into Spanish, he continued to produce poetry and … after 1940… plays until his death in 1955, perhaps not the most widely read of Mexican writers, but a surprisingly and unexpected VERY Mexican one.

Marijuana (translated by Eli Rosenblatt)

mjThe path so muddy
A man, on the earth on the mist
Moving along lazy-stepped
with feet, like heavy pendulums
eyes, alight like candlesticks
small flames aroused, fall upon
womanly flesh and hips,
on girlishly tender faces.

What a waste!
He can’t avert his gaze.
Why, if man could master himself
slake in his eyes
these erotic flames.

The man smokes marijuana
A narcotic.

The dream-effect places him in a harness

The earth is not muddy.
He lays upon divans
that caress his feet, treading:

He doesn’t hear the laments,
The begging
The children on grimy corners,
play quartets
Here, thousands of singers sing

A man collapses from hunger?
They extend their hands and wail?
Their skin dried out?

An Emperor
A Youth
Upon thrones
Of red and bloody luminations

It smokes a man, that marijuana.

He’s harnessed to the divan.
upon the earth, which is filthy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 27 October 2015 4:57 am

    Thanks for this very interesting post!

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