Isi Unikowski is a Canberran poet, who has been widely published in Australia and overseas. His first collection, Kintsugi, was published in July by Puncher & Wattman. You can find Kintsugi here and here (among other places!), and you can read more of Isi’s work online here.
Funny Accents and Pickles was first performed by Isi at a poetry night held by be:longing and Mother Tongue Multilingual Poetry at Smith’s Alternative in Canberra.
FUNNY ACCENTS AND PICKLES
It begins with an aleph, the diminutive
only two people in the world know me by
so when they’re gone, that me will vanish too,
as our mishpOOcheh —
the way we pronounce the Yiddish word for ‘family’
that instantly identifies us as plebeian,
not a classy mishpOche—
and the people who speak to me in Yiddish
become fewer still, a fact that obliges me to avoid
kintzen, the word my folks use to dismiss gimmicks,
antics, superficial showiness,
whatever calls undue attention to itself
like those who say they speak this mameloschen
because they know two or three profanities
that would never be used by those
who made their home in it:
our gentle, kind teachers
who, before we knew what we must have meant to them,
tried so hard to get something into our farshtopte kep
when all we wanted was to be playing downball
against a brick wall that faced the street
in the shining Sunday morning, that boundless in drawsen!
to which my Dad would expel my brother and me
when our wrestling scuffed the skirting boards.
Too busy to find its own words for herbs that ignited passion,
doused a fever, wildflowers that tugged at the sides of village lanes,
Yiddish trudged from one place to another with its sack
that got heavier and bulkier with breklech from the world’s table,
essen teg, billeted in places that were home but never home
who could see it only in caricature:
funny accents, yokels carting pickles,
Shylocks arriving mit der business card
outlandish relatives moaning oy vey! as they pinched our cheeks
from their couches on the borders of normality
behind which we fidgeted and forgot, nebech, that in Yiddish
a khokhme— the word for a joke —
is the same as the word for wisdom.
© Isi Unikowski, 2022