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THE GRAND DUKE OF NEW YORK

Gabriel Preil, the Grand Duke of New York,
goes downtown incognito every day.
Disguised in a felt hat with a tiny feather,
he walks among the crowds of subjects, listening.
The deception always succeeds: it’s been fifty years
and they still haven’t recognized him.
Skyscrapers built in his honor on the edge of Central Park and to the south
keep constant watch: where will he arrive from?
Police horses turn in every direction,
the squirrels lift up their tails: hasn’t he come yet? And all the while
he’s been strolling down Fifth Avenue, counting the precious minutes
on the gold and quartz watches, granting his pardon
to a couple of muggers who attacked him by mistake in some side street
and finally arrives
at his destination, the corner coffee shop. There he rests from his labors.
The waitress is suddenly radiant, she rushes up to
this loyal customer, who jokes with her sometimes
with velvet softness. But weak in faith, overworked,
she turns to ordinary people, not realizing
that out of his cup he is telling a very sweet future for her.
At twilight the Duke vanishes
down an infernal subway, crosses the river between
drawn knives, is swallowed up in a nameless apartment house, locks his palace,
sits down in appropriate splendor. An amber light glows for him
in a glass of Russian tea. And to make sure that the great city goes on living tomorrow,
he composes a special night proclamation which reads:

Beyond the shores all crime is slowly fading,
And Time invites you for a friendly chat
.

 
 
 
 

Translator's Note: Gabriel Preil (1911–1993) was an Estonian-born Jewish poet who lived in the Bronx, New York, and wrote in Hebrew and Yiddish. He died in Jerusalem while on a visit in 1993.