From the Other Side of the Wall


Three “lesbo-sensuous” Yiddish poems from around the world.

by Hinde Ena Burstin

It is rare to find published Yiddish poems portraying sexual relationships between women. Even poems expressing sexual desires between women have seldom appeared in twentieth-century Yiddish literature. While such poems are scarce and difficult to access, they do exist. The poems below are three lesbo-sensuous Yiddish poems, written by three poets, on three continents (respectively, Europe, Africa, and Australasia) in three different decades of the twentieth century (respectively, the 1920s, the 1960s, and the 1990s).

Note: The three poems below were published in an essay called “Female Fantasies from the Other Side of the Wall: Twentieth Century Lesbo-Sensuous Yiddish Poems.” This essay appeared in Jews & Sex, edited by Nathan Abrams (Five Leaves Publications, 2008). Below are three poems in Yiddish, along with English translation. For those interested in learning more about the meaning and context behind these poems and about the authors, we hope you will read this provocative book.

Fun Yener Zayt Vant (On the Other Side of the Wall)
By Dine Libkes (born in 1900 in Slovetshna, District of Volin, Ukraine)
gevidmet L.R. (Dedicated to L.R.)

Fun yener zayt fun mayn kheyder vant
Shloft a yunge mit mir baynand,
Veys ikh, veyst zi,
Az fun yener zayt vant!…

Treft amol in kholem,
Rukt zikh op di vant,
Derfil ikh ir naketn varem—
Ir hant—

Ikh khap zikh oyf—
A vant!
Vert toyt-fardrosik far ventisher altkayt,
Far shteynener kelt…

Fun yener zayt vant,
Shloft a yunge mit mir baynand,
Veys ikh, veyst zi,
Az fun yener zayt vant…

On the other side of my bedroom wall,
A young woman sleeps beside me, enthralled
I know, she knows,
That on the other side of the wall!…

Sometimes, in my dream,
The wall slides away
and I can feel her naked warmth,
Her hand—

My youth bubbles up in me,
I wake up and see—
A wall!

Is this walled oldness,
This stony cold…

On the other side of my bedroom wall,
A young woman sleeps beside me, enthralled
I know, she knows,
That on the other side of the wall!…

Yunge Shprotsn (Young Sprouts)
By Sore Ayzn (Sarah Aisen) (born in 1910 in Kaunas, Lithuania)
gevidmet L.R. (Dedicated to L.R.)

Shoyn gut azoy tzi zitsn shtil
Tsvishn khavertes in letstn bank
Dikh onkukn durkh shirtsl-tyul
Un foyl zikh tsuhern tsum lerers gang,

Fun tovl biz tsum vant,
Un vider biz tsum tish,
Un dan tsetrogn un in aylenish
Derklern romantizm in lirik,
Un vider zetsn zikh tsurik.
Tsvishn khavertes oyf ershtn bank.
How good it is to sit quietly now
Among girlfriends in the back row
To gaze at you through a veil somehow
And listen lazily to the teacher go
From the blackboard to the wall
And back to the desk again.
I blush when I’m asked to explain
Romanticism and lyric,
I sit back down so quickly
And stare at you long and slow
Among girlfriends in the front row.

Miriyam’s Lid (Miriyam’s Song)
By Hinde Burstin (born in 1962 in Melbourne, Australia)
Far Shaunelen (For Shauna)

O, Miriyam, mayn malke fun midber
On dir iz mayn harts ful mit payn.
Tref mikh farnakht bay dem brunem:
Veyst shoyn vu ikh vel bahaltn zyn.

Ze az man zol dikh nisht nokhgen
K’hob moyre, vayl s’ drot a gefar
Zey zogn s’iz nisht normal undzer libe—
Zey kenen undz teytn derfar.

Nor ikh hunger dikh tsu haltn un haldzn
Mit libe dayn layb tsu mir drukn
Mit veykhkayt dikh vider tsu vign
Tsuzamen dem zun fargang ontsukukn.

Vend u bist a zikher in mayne orems
Veln mir zikh tseflamen vi shkiye royt
Kh’vel dir lekn dos zamd fun di viyes
Kh’vel dir lekn dos zalts fun der hoyt.

Undezr libe brent heyser vi der midber
S’brit vi zamd vos derzet nisht keyn shotn
Hobn gepasknt di velkhe hobn keyn anung
Az s’iz undzer libe farbotn.

Zey zogn az tsvey froyen torn nisht libn
Galik zaynen di gezetsn oysgeklerte
Ven es trefn zikh nor undzere lipn
Veyst dos himl az du bist mayn basherte.

Ikh vin greyt far yeder sakone
Vayl nayn oazis, mayn tayve bistu.
Biz ikh vel vider in dayne shvartse oygn zinken
Farzink ikh in umetiker unru.

Gib akhtung, o hit zikh mayn konik.
Shushke zikh tsu mir geshvind.
Ze az men zol dikh nisht khapn
S’iz dokh undzer libe keyn zind.

O miriyam, mayn malke fun midber,
Az vest shoyn onkumen, vet mir zany beser.
Yo, groys iz take di sakone
Nor s’iz dokh undzer libe nokh greser.

Oh Miriyam, my queen of the desert—
Without you, my heart’s filled with pain.
Meet me at twilight by the well:
I’ll be hiding where we arranged.

Make sure that you are not followed.
I’m frightened, for the danger is great.
They say that our love isn’t normal—
They will kill us if they find out.

But I hunger to hold you and hug you
To press your body to mine with love,
To rock you gently once more
As together, we watch the sun set.

When you are safe in my arms again,
We’ll burst aflame like the dusk desert sky.
I will lick the sand from your eyelashes,
I will lick the salt from your skin.

Our love burns hotter than the desert.
It scalds like sand that sees no shade.
But those who have no idea
Have ruled that our love is forbidden.
They say that two women must not love.

Bitter as bile are their made-up laws.
All it takes is for our lips to meet
And the Heavens know that you are my basherte.

I’m prepared to face every danger
For my oasis, my passion is you.
Until I can sink into your dark eyes again,
I slip down into lonely unease.

Oh Miriyam, my queen of the desert.
When I hold you, I’ll feel so much better.
Though the risk we take is great,
Our love is even greater.

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