translated from the Hungarian & edited by Thomas Ország-Land (June 2015)
Like burnt grass, my life endures
after the hunger, strife and terror –
The sword, the pestilence retreat
though I remember… I remember.
I’ve survived the sight of the scorching
embers of stunning wickedness.
I need no evil fantasies
since I remember, I remember.
Skeletons tramping the ramparts of Babel.
I’ve arrived from bottomless depths
that hold my beloved, moaning dead
whom I remember, I remember.
Even my pursuing killers
share the sunshine, but still I freeze –
My gaunt and mighty angel soars
as I remember, I remember.
But I stop the chase and turn
facing up to my tormentors.
I am a gravemound: let them strike
while I remember, I remember.
I am homeless, with only a gate
hanging ajar to the lamentation
of bitter, hateful poverty
that I remember, I remember.
Here in the ruined autumn streets
shuffles a trembling, sightless beggar,
and I defer to him from afar
for I remember. I remember.
Blessed be those whom I passed on the street,
those who beheld on my chest
the yellow Star of David,
those who were saddened by the sight,
those who walked on with heavy heart
burdened by shame; and blessed be also
those who chose to avert their faces
closed with fixed and frozen looks.
The table stands on pounded dirtfloor
covered by a white damask tablecloth,
with plaited milk-bread set out and prayerbooks,
and some small candles already burning,
the silver candlesticks expecting
the moment when the Sabbath will enter,
the Bride will stand upon the rag-carpet
and join us in the empty chair,
the one by grandfather, and this night
no-one should be missing among us,
this pious family murmuring prayers,
blessing each piece of milk-bread in turn,
sitting together in the kitchen
where the fringes of the double-thick tablecloth
softly cascade down onto our laps,
I see fiddling fingers plaiting the fringes
for today is holy, holy, and
our hands today must do no work
as people who are joined by the Sabbath
must not even think of business –
I watch grandfather’s Sabbath face
depart from time to time to Jerusalem
and return again when our eyes meet
as though his kingdom were right here,
and grandfather sits in peaceful silence
at the head of the great long table
laden for Friday evening with milk-bread,
laden with wine and candlelight,
he is the first to break and taste
the milk-loaf, to bless it and pass it on
to each of us for further blessing –
Every fallen crumb of that golden
braided milk-loaf collects here now,
the stars that have scattered from the timeless
table of God all gather here now,
but, my God, where is that Sabbath
the day when everyone could sleep longer
and grandmother read in the big double-bed
and my dangling feet did not reach the floor
and my eyes could not yet see past the walls
where a wagon was pulled up for us
with everyone brutally crammed inside…
Mother and I, the lucky survivors,
sit on one side of the great laden table:
the fringes of the double-thick tablecloth
dangle over empty space.
THE ORPHANS’ KADDISH: 1945
The orphans saying Kaddish, praising Him,
after the genocide, praising Him the Eternal,
Kaddish said by the orphans, singing His praise,
praising Him the Eternal, after the genocide.
What kind of people are the survivors ready already to chant:
holy, holy, holy be His name, the smoke has not even
dispersed, the surviving people, chanting already, what kind of smoke
is this, not even dispersed, His name be holy, holy, holy.
His law will light up the broken eyes of the dead,
already it has lit up the gaze of the living,
the broken eyes of the dead lit up by His law
already, it has lit up the gaze of the living
praising Him, the orphans saying Kaddish,
the survivors, what kind of people are they ready already to chant,
the broken eyes of the dead by His law lit up:
holy, holy, holy be His name,
the smoke has not even dispersed.
THE STREET OF THE DEAD
I walk along that street as though
nothing had occurred there,
I recall each face as though
the residents were still present,
I name the name of every soul,
from house to house I walk and call
my brothers who still live there,
together, beyond the present.
András Mezei (1930-2008), a major voice of the Hungarian Holocaust. More of his poetry in Thomas Land’s English translation is published in Survivors and Christmas in Auschwitz (both by Smokestack Books, England in 2014 and 2010, respectively) and in The 100 Years War (Bloodaxe, England, 2014).
Thomas Ország-Land (b. 1938), a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His contributions appear in current, forthcoming or recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The Author, The Hungarian Quarterly, The Jewish Quarterly, The London Magazine and Stand.
(Author Photo by Hajnalka Friebert)
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