His poem “last will and testament” begins: “get your flag out of my face, it tickles!” Jerome Rothenberg’s appealing translation from the German continues:
and get that tinny wreath off my chest, it’s rattling too much;
toss it over with the statues on the garbage heap,
and give the ribbon to some biddies to doll themselves up with.
The poem goes on in that fed-up vein for another 15 lines and ends like this:
as for the resurrection of the flesh however and life everlasting
i will, if it’s all the same to you, take care of that on my own;
it’s my affair, after all. live and be well!
here’s a couple of butts left on the dresser.
It’s hard to beat the mockingly humorous flavor of that poem with its hint of Yiddish in Rothenberg’s rendering. Now for another tone — the elegiac without a hint of the lyrical, which would have been a violation — in “The Vanished.” Dedicated to Nelly Sachs, who fled Nazi Germany and whose body of writings was suffused by the Holocaust, “The Vanished” surely signals for its translator, Rita Dove, another kind of holocaust, the centuries-long American holocaust of black slavery.