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The Wound of Manhattan: A Holocaust Poem for 9/11 by András Mezei

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

 

1

The Horror

 

Oh – the ashes! Dissolved in the dust of the ruins

of our Twin Towers of Babel, merge forever 

the sacred remains of the slain… as well as their slayers. 

 

Humanity! Your name is being abused

again to justify mass murder for righteousness,

freedom, goodness and God… whichever god.

 

Appoint for the killers safe cities to hide and to heal

for they are turning themselves into bombs in flight,

exploding a Holocaust of random hatred,

destroying themselves with others they do not bother

even to count or encounter or comprehend.

 

The rage and the plight of the world have accumulated,

blighting the human face and the beauty of life.

A lust for death and betrayal invades our households.

 

As the sap withdraws from a winter-chilled tree,

the vital lights of our culture retreat below ground.

 

The worldwide web sags limp in our digital newsrooms.

The news is stark. It may dismay us: If we

trample down the soft black earth of the molehills, 

the soft new Holocaust ashes might… fill our mouths.

 

 

2

Psalm

 

From the ashes, arises this psalm of our time:

Just yesterday, the killers dug up the sacred

bones of our dead and boiled them up for soap.

Today, our own societies clandestinely

harvest our own remains for commercial use.

God of the Jews! and Jesus! and Allah! Whoever!

 

…They can tolerate this, as long as we will.

 

My God, this hatred burns Your very domain,

the land where the predator does not detest the prey

but desires it, where the eyes of the carnivore

are green as the grass, where the satiated lion

peaceably lies alongside the trusting lamb.

 

Oh – the powerful burden of the ashes!

Gather a handful from the grounds of our ruined

Towers of Babel, my Lord, to wipe away

the rage from face of humanity, Thine own image

that lives and dies by slaughter and by inheritance.

 

For there is no hatred left in the ashes… I know that.

For sacred are the remains of people, and pure

the marks of the Lord and the people left in the ashes.

 

 

 

3

America

 

Mourning Manhattan, daughter of America:

squat down on your stiletto heels in the ashes,

this tender, soft, rich dust, and summon a jeweller

to fashion the ashes into bracelets and rings

to advertise your magnetic might and wealth,

and a necklace with a medallion adorned

by your delightful profile in high relief…

like the raised security print on a banknote.

 

You ruled the world from these twin towers of trade,

and wore a mantle of glass that swallowed the light

without reflecting an image. From the multitude

of our immigrants’ boats, we marvelled at your dark,

magnificent, impenetrable sunglasses.

 

And your super-fast elevators raised us

from our sea-levels to the waters of heaven.

 

And even the traders of the ancient world

still lift their envious gaze towards your shores

across the millennia. Fleets of sunken galleys would

gladly rise from the depths to bring you their cargoes

because you have become our mainmast, America!

 

 

4

Trade

 

Your dainty shoes, Manhattan, have walked the moon.

Your frontiers today embrace the celestial bodies.

You have adapted our oars of Biblical craftsmanship

to navigating your solar-powered spacecraft… 

 

Collect the surviving treasures of Solomon’s fortune

from the Holocaust ashes, for they want to please you.

And so do the wines congealed in the lost amphorae,

the diamonds and rubies and jades of the Queen of Sheba,

and all the world’s data that seek to advise you of goods

on offer… and goods in demand. We must sail on –

the message of traders will soon be bounced between

the planets across the electric storms of space.

 

 

Your enterprise is admired by all the world.

Even your enemies share your loss of the towers

whose busy trading floors collapsed with the dreams

of profits entertained by warrior merchants

who have hung up their shields and helmets and swords

in your spirit: Wage no war – but trade!

 

Humanity that you’ve led into space, Manhattan,

trusts you to shape and define our shared ambitions.

 

 

5
The Merchant

 

And the towers of our ambition will rise again 

and our conflicting tongues and dreams and schemes

prevail and unite in common comprehension.

But first we must learn again… how to run business.

 

Those who have eyes and ears can see and hear:

Good merchants do not prey upon strangers. They welcome

and offer them tea and cakes and fragrant seeds,

because the security of home and business

depends upon the safety of every road.

 

When the traders display their goods on offer,

their spirit ennobles their merchandise, for they love

the essence of trade as well as its substance… The merchants

convey their customers past the sand-dunes of commerce

towards the mutual gain rewarding a sale.

 

Such endeavours survive any suicide flight

because a trustworthy merchant serves the consumer,

because the God of the Jews and Jesus and Mohamed

sails with the flying carpet of Aladdin’s spirit.

 

Don’t let the worshippers of death detain you –

Arise from the Holocaust dust and walk, Manhattan!

 

 

6

The Advice

 

And listen again how an ancient teacher and trusted

business consultant put it: If in your greed

you add house to house and join field to field,

you will be left to live alone in the land.

 

He spoke to you and me in the greatest best-seller

spanning our space and time: How dare you crush

and grind the faces of the poor into dust?*

Your answer to our need… must be pure as the ashes.

 

The faces, the eyes, the mouths, the dreams of the poor

are all your markets, Manhattan. You must protect them.

 

Deploy the power of your wealth to ease the pain

of the gaping wounds of our decaying cities.

 

Leave us something worth saving. Return a third

of the profits. Dampen the faceless embers of rage.

 

Remain the spiritual tower of our freedom,

America, support our wretched masses,

and give us sanctuary! give us work, and a chance:

give us a chance in our lands against our tyrants!

 

And learn to respect humanity’s loss in the sacred

dust of even the slayers… as well as the slain.

 

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*The Bible/Isiah, 3:15.

_________________________________________________

 

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 (b. 1938), 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 Hungarian Quarterly, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine and Stand.

 

 

 

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