Ida Lewin (1906-1938),
AlwaysWinter, Poland

Jehanne Dubrow


The missing child won't
be found, although I claw
through every hidey-hole,
     each spot
a baby crawls into
to die. She's crying there
inside the ground,
sucking the milk
of nightmares
only mothers make,
when they have nothing left
to give.                I feel
her growing fat although
I cannot hold her fingers
anymore, those tiny ropes
that used to choke my thumbs,
      until my own hands turned
to white, unfeeling stones.





After so many years spent in her company, I feel that I can call the poet by her first name. Ida, only Ida. We fought sometimes. I wished for poems penned on clean, white paper. She argued back from the page, reminding me that a translator's task is to erase the distances between author and reader. Even on our most difficult days together, she was always beautiful. Her voice smelled of spices. 

And so I have done my best to communicate the modernity of Ida's work: her belief that a woman's place in the world is defined by the strictures as well as the strengths of the feminine body; her appreciation of the dark mysteries of Jewish life; her spectral, gauzy words.

My translations attempt to convey the physical absences, which are present in all extant copies of Ida's writings. Through the use of white space, I have tried to replicate the places in the document ruined by weather. Some pages were stained so badly that the ink is now illegible, a blue-back smear. Such lacunae are essential to the contemporary experience of Ida's poetry. She often wrote poems in the margins of newspapers, on the backs of used envelopes, and alongside old shopping lists folded and refolded into permanent creases. We have no alternatives to these punctured, porous texts. Occasionally the manuscript's damage was so severe that I chose to reconstruct narrative by relying on the context of neighboring poems.

All mistakes and inconsistencies are my own. Do not blame Ida.

 – J.I.D.