I’m Building a Gallows

A selection of English translations of work by the poet Rita Kogan.

Rita Kogan is a feminist poet and translator in Israel, producing original verse in Hebrew and translations from her native Russian. She was born in Leningrad in 1976, immigrating to Israel in 1990. Her Hebrew-language collections include Rishayon li-shegiot ketiv (License to Misspell, 2015) and Sus bahatzait (Horse in a Skirt, 2018), a runner-up for the prestigious Gardner Simon prize for Hebrew poetry. Kogan has produced several iconic translations of Russian poetry into Hebrew, including that of Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam, Joseph Brodsky, and a complete translation of Alexander Pushkin’s The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights. Kogan’s poetry explores the challenges that Russian-speaking women encounter in their daily life in Israel, including ethnic discrimination, sexual abuse, and the difficulty of expressing sexuality in a patriarchal society. In addition to the underside of Russian immigrant life, Kogan’s verse also reveals the joie-de-vivre of a free Israeli literary spirit, seeking nothing but her loves and literary attachments. Kogan is a prominent voice in Israeli literary circles, publishing frequently in the literary and lay press.

Song of the Sea (2016)

My great grandmother didn’t drive a car
And didn’t sail a boat.
My great grandmother never worked outside the house.
She gave birth to children and survived wars.

My grandmother didn’t drive a car
And didn’t sail a boat.
My grandmother cooked and cleaned after her husband.
She was a doctor and fought at Stalingrad.

My mother drives a car (a bit uncertainly)
And goes sailing with me (in summer, once every two years)
My mother got married, because she needed to, twice.
She can make worlds from words, and heal with an embrace.

I drive a car and am chief engineer,
I know coding, men, and poetry.
I never married, doubt if I’ll have a kid.
I sail a boat.

Translated from the Hebrew by Alex Moshkin and Kevin M. F. Platt.

שירת היםמאת ריטה קוגן

סָבְתָא רַבְּתָא שֶׁלִּי לֹא נָהֲגָה בְּרֶכֶב

וְלֹא הֵשִׁיטָה מִפְרָשִׂית.

סָבְתָא רַבְּתָא לֹא יָצְתָה אֶת בֵּיתָהּ לְפַרְנְסוֹ.

הִיא יָלְדָה יְלָדִים, שָׂרְדָה מִלְחָמוֹת.

סָבְתָא שֶׁלִּי לֹא נָהֲגָה בְּרֶכֶב

וְלֹא הֵשִׁיטָה מִפְרָשִׂית.

סָבְתָא שֶׁלִּי הַגִּישָׁה וּפִנְּתָה צַלָּחוֹת עֲבוּר בַּעֲלָהּ.

הִיא הָיְתָה רוֹפְאָה, נִלְחֲמָה עַל סְטָלִינְגְּרָד.

אִמָּא שֶׁלִּי נוֹהֶגֶת בְּרֶכֶב (בַּחֲשָׁשׁ מָה).

וְשָׁטָה אִתִּי בְּמִפְרָשִׂית (בְּקַיִץ, אַחַת לִשְׁנָתַיִם).

אִמָּא שֶׁלִּי הִתְחַתְּנָה, כִּי צָרִיךְ, פַּעֲמַיִם.

הִיא יוֹדַעַת לִיצֹר עוֹלָמוֹת מִמִּלִּים, הַחִבּוּק שֶׁלָּהּ מְרַפֵּא.

אֲנִי נוֹהֶגֶת בְּרֶכֶב, מְהַנְדֶּסֶת בְּכִירָה,

יוֹדַעַת קוֹד, גְּבָרִים וְשִׁירָה.

לֹא הִתְחַתַּנְתִּי, סָפֵק אִם אֵלֵד יְלָדִים.

אֲנִי מְשִׁיטָה מִפְרָשִׂית.


Mom, I Don’t Want to Reproduce (2020)

Mom, I don’t want to reproduce,
I’ve never liked the notion.
Instead, I’d like to cross
The Atlantic Ocean
And sail along the Equator,
With more free time
And a bit more money, I’ll sail
To them both.
In the meantime I sail on the Mediterranean
Sometimes on the Adriatic,
Practicing bowline knots.
Mom, I don’t want to reproduce,
I’ve never liked the notion.
Instead, I want to read more and more and more books,
Write a few,
Translate some others,
And sculpt,
And look at so so so much art.
I live like Pippi Longstocking
In my home, with my animals,
Without grownups.
It’s not a big house, just a rented studio,
Instead of a horse and a monkey
I have four cats and a love tree,
And my father won’t be found on an island in the middle of the sea,
I don’t have chests full of gold in the basement,
And I’m not the strongest girl in the world,
But I support myself,
My hair is orange,
I wear a Japanese hat in summer,
And I’m firmly in this world.

Translated from the Hebrew by Alex Moshkin and Zackary Sholem Berger.

“אמא, אני לא רוצה להתרבות”

.אמא, אני לא רוצה להתרבות
.אף פעם לא רציתי
במקום זה רציתי לחצות
,את האוקיינוס האטלנטי
,ולהפליג בקו המשווה
וכאשר יהיה לי יותר זמן פנוי
וקצת יותר כסף, אפליג
.שם, וגם שם
בנתיים אני מפליגה בים התיכון
וקצת בים אדריאטי
.ומתאמנת על קשרי הצלה
.אמא, אני לא רוצה להתרבות
.אף פעם לא רציתי
,במקום זה רציתי לקרוא עוד ועוד ועוד ספרים
,ולכתוב קצת ספרים
,ולתרגם קצת ספרים
.ולראות המון המון המון המון אמנות
,אני חיה כמו פפי גרבארוך
בבית משלי עם חיות, בלי חוקים
.של המבוגרים
,אמנם זה לא וילה אלא דירונת שכורה
ובמקום סוס וקופיף יש לי
,ארבעה חתולים ועץ אהבה
,ואבי לא יימצא על אי בלב ים
,ואין לי ארגזים עם מטבעות זהב במרתף
,ואני לא הילדה הכי חזקה בעולם
,אך שיערי עודנו ג’ינג’י
,ואני חובשת כובע קש יפני בקיץ
.ואני חזקה בעולם

A Gallows

(In the wake of the Santa Barbara massacre)
I’m building a gallows
Rung by rung
Where I’ll hang
All woman-hating men.
I’ll hang them slowly,
I’ll drop the nooses
Over the haters’ necks.
Then set up the stools
And stand the haters
En pointe.
I’ll count to three
And gently knock over

Each and every stool.

Translated from the Hebrew by Alex Moshkin and Zackary Sholem Berger.



בעקבות הרצח בסנטה ברברה

.אֲנִי בּוֹנֶה גַּרְדּוֹם

.שַׁלֵּב אַחַר שַׁלֵּב

וְשֵׁם אֶתְלֶה בְּסַךְ

.גְּבָרִים שׂוֹנְאַי נָשִׂים

,אֶתְלֶה אוֹתָם לְאַט


אַנִּיחַ לוּלָאוֹת

.עַל צַוְּארֵי שׂוֹנְאִים

אַנִּיחַ שְׁרַפְרַפִּים

וְאַעֲמִיד שׂוֹנְאִים

.עַל קְצוֹת הָאֶצְבָּעוֹת

אֶסְפֹּר אַךְ עַד שָׁלוֹשׁ

וַאֲמוֹטֵט בְּרֹךְ

.שְׁרַפְרַף אַחַר שְׁרַפְרַף

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