Survival in Sodom by Magda Székely
translated from the Hungarian and edited by Thomas Ország-Land (March 2014)
The author of the following pieces is hardly known abroad, yet she is one of the greatest among the Holocaust writers. Magda Székely (1936-2007), poet, translator, literary editor, was a shy and very private person with relatively little published output. More of her work will appear in Survivors, an anthology of Hungarian Holocaust poetry in Thomas Ország-Land’s English translation, to be released by Smokestack Books (England) in June.
Saving the Sodomites
I hold a solitary vigil
over this forsaken garden
of bones. The skulls have called my name.
It is my lot to guard them.
The Lord once called a prophet’s name.
He answered, and the ossified,
dead flesh began to grow again.
Behold, the hecatombs revived.
I do not possess the power
to grow live flesh upon dead bone.
This time, though, I call the questions.
No-one answers. I’m alone.
What’s the use of retribution
over swiftly passing time?
Can you exercise forgiveness
if all deny the crime?
The fragile stalk of trust can feed
from just thin air. I’ll never tire
to seek ten righteous Sodomites
...to save this city from the fire.
I can’t relent, for I am alive in the place
of those who can’t forgive or change with time:
the slain... awaiting justice as obstinately
as stones are weighing down the earth.
But spring is bright. I eat, and I have grown.
My living flesh would reach towards the living.
I’d like to train my life around mundane
events like plants around a garden post –
yet must remain as resolutely faithful
and strain as unflinching as the dead are dead.
I must remain, like stones upon the earth,
unshaken in our righteousness.
Earth slowly heals the void left by their lives.
Their moaning spaces fill with new arrivals.
Their footprints disappear. My own survival
alone remains the last indictment.
A human being consuming
a hearty lunch, or observing
in comfort from the kerbside
the neighbours’ shrunken faces
during their faltering march,
herded in hatred towards
the killing fields by the Danube –
how could such a person tell
upon what appalling shores,
and over what gaping abyss
I guard against missing a step
and what tenacious powers
tie me still to this place,
and what is the weight I must
carry in isolation?
I’m holding such human beings,
in truth, alone in my arms,
and if no-one prevents my fall
and if my strength should fail
and the final crumb of compassion
should at last be lost...
if no-one comes to my aid,
the abyss will swallow us all.
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. His poetry appears in current, forthcoming or very recent issues of Acumen, Ambit, The London Magazine, The Jewish Quarterly and Stand.
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