There’s a sound in Yiddish like choking

There’s a sound in Yiddish like choking;

it’s a shock to hear the first time

and impossible to produce without spitting

unless it was bred into you


when you were soft and malleable 

and your tongue wasn’t bent on the harder things.

Those consonants that start in the heart

and end on the fingertips.


That sound is stored somewhere in my blood

but not the words to accompany it,

besides the names of food.

At least that one’s to be expected.


The language itself didn’t make it to me

but I guess that’s to be expected too:

when you need to travel light you have to leave things behind you

and your history is no different.


The people who knew that language probably found it

too heavy to take along with them.

So I suppose it’s somewhere back beyond us,

dropped in the Pale of Settlement


alongside the luggage and animals,

the ancestors, and the other parts of my family tree

that were clipped where they grew.

So considering what they needed to drop,


I can’t blame them for leaving words too.

Because really, that’s all they are. Words.

Nothing so intangible after all.

Nothing we can’t live without if we need to.


But that sound like choking made it through somehow

so please forgive me when I pronounce it harder than I should.

The names for food I do know and say too loudly.

The names of people I know by heart but never met. 

LAURENCE LEVY-ATKINSON is a poet and writer based in Melbourne, Australia. His work can be found in many places, including: Southerly, Australian Poetry Journal, Poetica Magazine, and A Quiet Courage. He was featured as part of the 2016 Slinkies emerging writers series and was shortlisted for the 2018 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award.