Modernist Yiddish poet Yitskhok Berliner was born in Łódź, Poland in 1899. He immigrated to Mexico in 1923. He sold images of saints for a living. Berliner’s best-known poetic subjects were the destitute and forgotten people of Mexico City’s alleyways. The detailed, ethnographic language of Berliner’s speaker is also an expressionist voice in spiritual crisis. He is a tormented, simple Jew who—having become European exactly as he departed the continent for Mexico—reluctantly improvised a persona sensitive to the severe social disparities of his new home. The poems emphasize the anguish and disorientation of thinking and writing Yiddish in a Nahuatl and Spanish linguistic environment.Berliner died in 1957, in Mexico. Published in 1941, the verses that follow include three poems in their first English translations. The language is marked by its subversive use of allusions to the Jewish past. Two dark bodies bend over like “reyshes” as a new immigrant rides in a wagon through the alleyways of Mexico City. We encounter the image of a sudden, frantic search for tefillin inside a Hasidic overcoat as naked children play in the sandy streets. We pass by dreams impaled on picket fences. The last poem from Berliner’s best-known book, City of Palaces, about marijuana’s effects on the perception of abject poverty, was published in English translation in 1996 and appears here in a new translation.Yiddish poet Melekh Ravitch remarked that Berliner “should be and is a synthesis, between the wider world (al-velt) and the Jewish world, between yesterday and today, between Tepito and Bałuty, Mexico and Łódź, America and Europe, today and eternity, individual experience and world experience.” As some Jews mark Mexican Independence Day and the Fast of Gedaliah simultaneously, may this poet’s modernist innovations be a guide—and a warning.Godl Treads a New Land(Fragment From a Long Poem about Immigrant Life in Mexico)The sea behind is already suspended in green jelly\nhaving been cast by a front of waves checkered and fluttering\nlike Jonah’s whale-fish, the ship remains, still by the coastline.\nHere he encounters here a sun glowing with dust and pollen\nHe raises his eyes up to the heavens and prayerfully deep-dreams.\nHis still lips manage—Praise God, may His name be sanctified!—\nI have just crossed the sea and arrived here in one piece.Foreign-tongued voices deafen like the beats\nof drums.\nStrange men hand off the suitcase he carries\npulling,\nHis valise between valises, lifted on a wagon\ntwo dark bodies flank him like two reyshes, bent.\nTwo palms lift and push the wagon hard\nand Godl is off through the sunburned streets and intersections\nHe looks around and gazes upon it all, naked children in sand\nmessing around.Big houses. Small, low-slung shanties bending down in prayer.\nHe touches the pocket in his overcoat to check if his tefillin\nare there—if he had left them on the ship—God forbid—Deprivation.He arrives at a house. An inscription on a board: “Hotel Espana”\nA man opens the door to a room for him, better to say merely, “lodgings”\nHe washes his hands in a basin and wastes no time.\nHe takes a look through the shaded window to the eastern heavens astride,\nfastens his tefillin upon his forehead and wraps the straps on his left arm\nForget it! He’ll pray in solitude, because here the Jewish street does not exist.Let Us Relate the PowerIt burns in me—the evil sin of Adam and Eve.\nMy troubles are soaked through with boiling tears and blood\nI have never praised the Creator, I have never prayed.\nI have never allowed God one tear through my wails.My dreams dangle bloody on every picket\nof this bright prison-world—I will beg, moan\nMy God—I come to you now with a holy quaking and panic,\nGirded with prayers, like a devout Jew on Rosh Hashanah.Each adversarial hour is a stumbling block,\nEvery coming day is for me a cold cruelty\nEvery bloody spot is a letter of Unesanneh Tokef\nThe red, agonized earth—an open page in the prayer book.There, put those letters in all the corners of the earth:\nWho from hunger? – Who in winter? – Who by fire? – and Who by water? \nand I will stay a fleck of dust between red flecks\nuntil the end of generations I will scream scream scream.The Punishment Should ComeIt became black it is a sunburned face\na piece of black coal\nthe light cries with red tears\ntoward a desolate destiny and unto horror\nThe Image of God wails\nWhat has the world deserted?There is no synonym\nfor sorrow that bullies\nIt is every letter\nof a poem\nan open mouth\nthat screams\nmoans\npunishment.For all\nfor beginning and end\nfor mourning-rips in cloth\nupon a world of compassion and good\nfor us who have been dealt what we’ve been dealt\nhere, besides a variety of folk\nfor every bloody hour.It moans\npunishment\nmy song\nblood, for a Jew\nbloody scream\nfrom each punishment.The heart of time\nhas opened up a black secret\nheated up my calm mood\nGod does not scream\nin my song’s chamber\nthe blood of the Jew, it screams\nit screams, it screams out to\na variety of folk\nand it moans my every sentence\nPunishment!\nPunishment!and I\na child\nfrom a folk among wandering folkthrough generations eternally in sorrow\nthrough distant paths\nthrough plague\nthrough temptation\nthrough wind.I wait\nfor the ascent of a new day.MarijuanaThe path so muddy\nA man, on the earth on the mist\nMoving along lazy-stepped\nwith feet, like heavy pendulums\neyes, alight like candlesticks\nsmall flames aroused, fall upon\nwomanly flesh and hips,\non girlishly tender faces.What a waste!\nHe can’t avert his gaze.\nWhy, if man could master himself\nslake in his eyes\nthese erotic flames.The man smokes marijuana\nA narcotic.The dream-effect places him in a harnessThe earth is not muddy.\nHe lays upon divans\nthat caress his feet, treading:He doesn’t hear the laments,\nThe begging\nThe children on grimy corners,\nplay quartets\nHere, thousands of singers singA man collapses from hunger?\nThey extend their hands and wail?\nTheir skin dried out?An Emperor\nA Youth\nUpon thrones\nOf red and bloody luminations\nNirvanaIt smokes a man, that marijuana.\nNarcotic.He’s harnessed to the divan.\nupon the earth, which is filthy.