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Among Gypsies

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Heavily he swayed as if he were drugged,
Teeth flashing beneath the fierce moustache,
Dressed in scarlet, he seemed half-crazed,
With braids of entwined gold sash.

An instrument’s string... a throaty scream... and suddenly
Sweetness moaned through my blood,
How willingly I trusted in his story
Of distant lands that I too have loved.

The sound of the string — a bull’s bellow
But a bull that had fed on bitter grass,
So the throaty voice — a girl’s sorrow
With hand clasped across her lips.

Flames of fire, flames of fire, staves
Of red trunks and a deafening whoop,
Mad in love, the guest tramples the leaves
Like a Bengal tiger that circles the group.

Blood drips down from his fierce moustache,
He’s languid, he’s sated, and he’s drunk.
O, a host of tambourines crash,
While bodies crush, sweet and rank.

As the corks pop and the people shout,
Can I alone see through cigars’ white smoke
As he throb-pulses his cruel heart,
Amber pipe, wet bench, stroke on stroke?

Can I alone remember him cutting diamonds,
On a river flowing back to the Godhead,
Like tempests of angels, and a sweet desire
With a bloody lily in a delicate hand?

Girl, what’s with you? See that rich guest,
Rise before him like a comet at night,
Enflame the heart in his shaggy breast,
Then tear it, tear it out — and devour it.

Whirl, whirl, wider and wider,
Move on and on with beckoning hands,
While evening is bathed in silvery vapor,
And fire on fire flares through the woods.

To the left and the right, bulls are tethered.
Their horns deadly, they bray to break out,
But their pasture grassland is bitter, bitter,
Thorny with thistles, wormwood and goosefoot.

He wants to rise, but can’t... flint notched like a saw,
Saw-toothed like a scream in the throat,
And beneath his stretched, grim, velvet paw,
It plunges into his wing d heart.

He falls on his chest, the shoulder braids knot,
Never more to drink, never more to stare,
The waiters fuss and bustle about
Then carry the drunken guest off somewhere.

Half past five, sirs, already so soon?
Asmodeus,* the bill, hurry it up.
The girl laughs. She grabs the flint stone
And her slender tongue licks the blood up.
* Asmodeus is an evil spirit and chief demon of Jewish folk lore. Whether the name had currency among east European Gypsies I have not been able to determine. McKane translates the name as “Satan.”

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