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15 March 2019

Six Poems


My paternal grandmother served as assistant choir leader – a precentress, no less – in our village church. My father was the youngest of her eleven sons, and thus heir to the family home. I and my five siblings lived in the same house and the same backyard with her. One of us had to spend the night beside her, or else she would keep us awake all night by singing her “otherworldly” songs, as we beratingly called them, out of sheer boredom. One of us – one of her numerous grandchildren totalling four soccer teams in headcount – may have managed to scale back the formidable volume of her singing to a point, but never quite enough to prevent the scrawny adobe walls from resounding with her ceaseless wailings, powered as they were by all the anguish of the 20th century. I was well into adulthood and living in Budapest when I learned that my grandmother’s chants, which I had had to endure between fits of trepidation and cold sweat, had been gems of medieval church music in Latin.

My meanderings to the Hungarian capital led through the Transylvanian town of Csíkszereda, a six-year sojourn in the land of Szeklers. Then I moved from what was essentially a village to the city, trading my status as Csángó for another kind of minority. To be more precise, I woke up to a state of being that no one in his or her right mind could ever covet: the questionable identity of a Csángó without a face, a past and a future. At the age of eleven, I was grateful for sitting in school away from the farm fields, tending to books rather than livestock, and spending my days improving my erudition instead of gnashing my teeth to toe the line of a culture I was expected to fit in with. Already then, I knew there was no way back. Yet I still find that the soul has a hard time keeping track of the body, which takes in its stride hundreds of kilometres and eons with ease.

Time, which in the Eastern Carpathians the course of the Sun would have everyone frolicking from the bridal dance to the tryst with the world beyond, gathers breakneck speed to the mechanical ticking of a clock in the Carpathian Basin, and becomes practically immeasurable in Budapest. Here, man himself is now the hand on that clock’s face, the indicator between the is and the was. Measured by the instrument of immortality, 20 years – the 20 years I have been here – do not even put a dent in time. Nor do the thousand kilometres between where I live and what I call home, a distance I have travelled back and forth a thousand times. It is but the shortest of paths leading to the end. This is just a circuitous way of saying that the wanderer that I am will keep trudging to catch up with a being in search of God, shunning the company of the atheist, delving into religion. Playing with fire, if you will, under the cloak of creation.

 

 

It Was Snowing

Days on end I waited

for this day to come.

Well-combed and dressed to kill,

to be snatched up by a gentle God

as a gift for his own pleasure.

I stood ready,

somnambulistic, a girl in love.

Nothing happened, then or since.

It was snowing all day long,

then more snow came before

I wove a wreath of holy flowers

for your evergreen forehead

underneath the hamlet sky.

 

***

 

Smoke

 

Smoke recoils perpetually;

a wary bum from a handshake.

I don’t know how it always starts to snow

when I set out to pick you up,

by the misty back roads of the mind.

I know you’d lock me in your arms.

Seconds against your beating chest:

Our time cut out. And terror for the rest.

 

***

 

Staves of Reed

 

Clouds moving in, God happens

to turn his back,

musing as I remember my mother

wringing her hands in diligence

of old age, just sitting there

in her heirloom linen shirt.

God has not cried for a drink of water

since yesterday.

The thrashing clapper of a bell

a half-message for a full farewell –

takes the world upon its shoulder

like a corpse not yet grown cold.

And each knell from any spire,

over who knows what altar,

will make the stooping spine

of God a-tremble.

 

***

 

Kids at Night

 

The trees grow old at night

just when you hear the cries

of childhood. And the sound

of prisoners stripped in a lager.

Some will be taken to Rome

and hung with a halo for a head.

 

Winter, too, comes wrapped in light,

hatching the frost

like a bird.

Death at night will never divulge

the abode of the soul, or the wherefore

of the haste.

It’s like pulling a blanket over

to keep your body from the cold.

 

***

 

Love in the Days of Charon

 

Should I be so afraid, you ask,

as a scarecrow

of the firefly?

As the tin soldier

of the dying ember?

of the tryst of salt and water?

No way of knowing

after the silence

who will speak clutching my cross

wishing a happy landing,

or, down there, who will untie my braid

amidst the beating surf

so I can kiss your holy hands.

 

***

 

Spires

 

I packed up yesterday

to leave,

wanting nothing but to roam

from spire to spire,

in a tolling attire
 

Translation by Péter Balikó Lengyel




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