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At the Café
by Anna Margolin


Alone in the café now,
as voices hush and fade,
as lamps give off a pearly glow
and float out of the café
and over the street—
like luminous swans.

—Waiter, black coffee—demitasse!

Alone in the café now,
with moments rustling like silk,
I raise my dusky fragrant wine
to the street, to the distance.
And like a song is the thought
I give off into the gloom,
a white light.


All the faces in smoke, like masks.
A joke, a shrug, a bleak glance,
and false words flaring, making you blanch.
Have I offended you, my dear?
Here, all of us wear cold, contemptuous masks.
We disguise the fever with clever irony
and a thousand smiles, shouts and grimaces.
Have I offended you, my dear?


In the frosty gleam of the lamps
in the glances, in the voices
my silence floats towards you—
a bright and secret sign.
Wafts like a summer breeze around you,
speaks haltingly to you
about you and me.
Oh, quiet, quiet words
about you and me.
And becomes silent
lulls you with yearning hands.
Takes you with white and quivering hands. 

Translated from the Yiddish by Shirley Kumove. Drunk From the Bitter Truth: The Poems of Anna Margolin can be found in the YIVO Library here at the Center.

From the Jewish Women’s Archive: “Rosa Lebensboim, better known by her pen name of Anna Margolin, is regarded by literary critics as one of the finest early twentieth-century Yiddish poets in America. Her poetry, translated by Adrienne Rich, Kathryn Hellerstein, and Marcia Falk, among others, appears in many Yiddish poetry anthologies in English. Captivating, temperamental, and intellectually gifted, Anna Margolin influenced the work of several major writers and thinkers of her time.” Click here to read more.

Submitted by Sarah Ponichtera, Center for Jewish History. 
Special thanks to David P. Rosenberg for assistance in the library. 

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