The Survivor by András Mezei

Translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (November 2014)


Victims of the Arrow Cross on the grounds of the Central Synagogue Budapest January 1945


 

THIS IS the title poem of The Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (Smokestack Books, England, 2014). Its author (1930-2008) survived a prolonged orgy of brutality in the Budapest Ghetto as a child marked for murder. He has posthumously emerged as a major poet of the Holocaust.

 

 

 

I.

Hanged: A Sketch

 

He held a fiddle in his left,

a goose brought down, its long limp neck

hung black in death – and to this day

I sense its silenced vocal cords.

 

What he was not allowed to say

what we can never comprehend

is played out by a hoary bow

upon the slackened silver strings

 

drawn by the Angel of Good Death

in flight above the snowbound fields:

blue frost upon his grizzled beard

and bunkers and Arbeit macht frei...

 

And still that violin plays on.

Its melody will never cease.

I see a bald, a silver skull.

I bless my father’s silver bones.

 

 

II.

My Father: A Legend

 

That very death

that very corpse

defines the district

like a plumb-rule

in true suspended

perpendicular.

 

 

That measuring-cord

of all of life,

its snowbound plane

and stark protrusions,

projects all human

suffering through

a line across

eternity.

 

This line so straight –

like weighted down rope

or stretched out cord

or lifting smoke,

a yearning darkened

silver line

through which the body

may rise to reach

its incarnation.

 

And as a single

beam of light

remains to hold

the tilted head,

the dazzling ray

refines itself

and gains in sharp

intensity.

 

The beam describes

the path for this

spectacular

one-way procession

of fateful signals:

thus the body

must meekly follow

the faithful breath.

 

The tightening throat –

the rattling cry –

the fleeing breath –

they liberate

the bursting soul

to rip its road

of focused light

towards the stars,

 

 

and cleave apart

our firmament

of deathly darkness,

and find a rest

upon the columns

of air supported

by the Children

of the Light.

 

The jawbone points

towards the sky –

the shoulder bone

has lost the fiddle –

Above the earth,

beneath the sky

abandoned hangs

a broken corpse

 

that would not soar

above the hill

of scaffolds, nor would

sink below,

and occupies

the light as though

it were supported

by the soul.

 

The joints are loosened.

Every bone

acquires its own

and separate weight.

The neck, the limbs

grow elongated.

Like the stars,

the vertebrae

inevitably

pull apart.

 

The sagging burden

of the arms

weighs down the shoulders.

The heavy wooden

prison clogs

hung from the feet

extend the ankles,

stretch the knees,

reshape the body.

Death is accomplished.

 

 

 

At last, the final

script of symbols:

The opened mouth,

the hanging tongue

blue like a flower

on a winter twig.

The busy stripes

of the prison garment

come to rest.

 

Beneath the sky

before the heaven

the flesh, the bones,

the prison rags

disintegrate

and, effortlessly,

the corpse dissolves

within the picture.

 

Over the desolate

wire fence,

above the fiddler

glows a gentle

protective hand.

Five shafts of light

direct my gaze

towards the City.

And... Here I am.*

 

 

III.

Love in Auschwitz

 

Birdsong, dusk. Departure from Auschwitz.

Resurgent love steps out from the gates,

immortal love whose skeletal essence

could never be consumed by the flames.

 

Past soaring hopes, reality

slowly settles from the smoke:

the heat of incandescent mess-tins –

a dented spoon beneath the earth –

 

and like that mouth, that Gothic cavity 

that spewed them, gods and fantasies

decompose amidst the dental

gold extracted from the dead.

 

 

The gas decays. The bunkers crumble.

The deportation trains withdraw.

And... Here I am, and here the arms

to hold the living world in... love.

 

For love redeems the fence of death:

I share your being and you mine

together in the light and silence

beneath our gagged and distant stars.

 

====================================================

*The Bible/Isaiah 6:8 – “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send?... And I said, Here am I. Send me!”

 

 

András Mezei (1930-2008), a foremost poet of the Hungarian Holocaust that reached its peak 70 years ago. More of his work in English appears in Survivors: Hungarian Jewish Poets of the Holocaust (2014) and Christmas in Auschwitz (2010), both translated and edited by Thomas Ország-Land and published by Smokestack Books, England.

 

 

Thomas Ország-Land, the editor and translator of the Hungarian Holocaust anthology, is also a survivor of that disaster. He is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent based in London and his native Budapest. His poetry appears in current, forthcoming or very recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine and Stand.

 

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