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  • Writer's pictureCorbin Allardice

My Lexicon - Moyshe Dovid Giser (Guiser)

Moyshe Dovid Giser

Born 1893 in Radom. 1917, Cologne, Germany. 1921, Warsaw. 1924, Argentina. 1933, Santiago de Chile.

Moyshe Dovid Giser is a gentle poet full of form, of language, of sumptuous Polish-Jewishness, of a great deal of naivety, and of a great deal of pathos--the pathos of someone who would fly like a bird if only he had wings. His first profession, the first profession he did for a living at any rate, was as a metal caster*, his second profession was as a teacher in a Yiddish school in Argentina. People say that he would beg the wild, Argentine Jewish brats (yatn) to study with tears in his eyes, but it didn’t help. When the teacher, this sentimental, lyric poet, once fell over dead tired while teaching a class, they were terrified, as if they had murdered their own teacher, and ran out to call a doctor, but they were the same old monsters by the time the next morning came. It was then that Giser decided to cross the second tallest mountain range in the world, the Andes, and settle in Chile, where he became a Yiddish printer. In a sense he returned to metal, to lead, to his family’s metal tradition.

Moyshe Dovid Giser’s poetry finds frequent use of the word shpyalter (pewter).** This is a word from his childhood home. But because my father was not a metal caster but a timber merchant, Giser knows as little of the words grubn-fostn (see note)*** and kubik-tsol (cubic inch), the words of my childhood home, as I do of shpyalter, and it doesn’t do either of us harm.

Moyshe Dovid is always cheerful (oyfgeroymt) and always ready either to read you one of his new poems, or to listen to one of yours. And when he reads a poem, he scans it like a schoolboy: tratata--tata--ta. And then his face lights up, a young and boyish lights floods the hundred wrinkles of a hard-labored life from generations of laborers, a true laborer, as the sages wrote (in di kleyne oysyes...farshribn), and you find yourself wanting to say: Rabbi Moyshe Dovid the Copper Caster sang:

White roses, Red roses,

Lily and narcissus,

Children, hungry and alone,

Pick to pieces.

Vayse royzn, route royzn,

Lilyen un nartsisn,

Kinder hungerik un elnt

Geyn opgerisn.

Moyshe Dovid’s wife is a Ukrainian-Jewish country girl (folkskind) and it seems as if she must have come to him straight out of one of his many folksy poems And he has three children, each as cute as a button. And listen to this, wives of Yiddish poets: when Moyshe Dovid first went to Chile, his wife and children were still in Argentina, and his wife decided immediately to move to be with her husband. She hit the road with all their children in tow, but the “Transandino” rail had stopped running due to snowstorms. So this brave woman took her children and crossed the Andes on donkeys. People before her and people after her have died on the very path, but she crossed peacefully. Had the husband, the poet, completed that adventurous crossing, he would have written a whole book of poems about it, but he didn’t. Instead he dedicated his most recent book to his wife, in honor of her brave deeds.

In 1924, when Giser was planning to leave Warsaw, we, the khalyastre group, lovingly organized a farewell party for him. But, as the fates would have it, only a few people showed to send off the poet who so beautifully sang of the Polish-Jewish way of life (poylish-yidishn shteyger.) But even in those circumstances, Giser’s face was still festive and festive light still radiated from his collar (kelnerl). It was notable, for that hard-laborer usually wore a work shirt. And then fourteen years passed. In 1937 I arrived in Santiago de Chile--and that same radiant face greeted me when my train pulled in to the station. The same smile--with more wrinkles.

And a few weeks passed. The train slowly pulls out of the station in Santiago. The poet keeps waving to me in the distance, I raise my eyes, over his head is the Alpenglow of the snow covered peaks which surround the beautiful capital of Chile, twilight.

Twilight for us, my dear, broad-smiling Moyshe Dovid, twilight for us. I was born in the same year as you were.


*- This is a pun as giser means “caster” [lit. pourer.]

**- Various Yiddish sources attest shpyalter as a kind of tin, one chemistry textbook specifies that it refers to englishe tsin which in turn, according to Verterbukh, refers to pewter.

***- I cannot find this term attested elsewhere and my knowledge of logging is, unfortunately, rather scant. Grub means ditch, or something of the sort. But I cannot find the term fost. There could be a typo and the term is post, but the common meanings of that are “mail, post” and “fast(ing), Lent.”

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