While the Yiddish writer and World War II partisan Avraham Sutzkever (1913-2010) is known primarily as poet, he also wrote numerous stories in prose. One such work—translated into English by Zackary Sholem Berger under the title “A Black Angel with a Pin in His Hand”—describes a fellow poet Sutzkever knew in Vilnius before the Holocaust. It begins thus:
His whole life he had been called Moyshe-Itzke, a familiar name, like you’d call a boy. The only people in whose memory he’s still barely alive remember him by that name.
Moyshe-Itzke was born because he wanted to be born. That’s what he told me. He then added confidentially that an entire collection of dark forces didn’t want to let him shine, but his will was stronger. The anointed writer Moyshe-Itzke was born in order to live eternally.
“I’m going to stay the way I am,” he said, assessing me superciliously, with the sort of face that would well up out of a shattered mirror. “Death isn’t relevant to me; we belong to two different worlds. It’s a pity that you won’t be walking these streets in a thousand years. You’d recognize me in throngs of people. I won’t change. Like a rock doesn’t change.”
He burst into hysterics, laughter like a dispersed mold, and kept going on like one possessed. “You say a rock can be overgrown with moss? Yes, my great soul will be overgrown with a beard. And you say that sparks sleep in the rock? They sing in my veins! The storm that can extinguish my sparks has not yet been born.”