HUNGARIAN TRANSYLVANIAN POETS – PART II

DOMOKOS SZILÁGYI
 

Domokos Szilágyi (1938–1976), poet, writer and translator, is considered an important figure in Transylvanian literature. He graduated from the Hungarian university of Kolozsvár with a degree in Hungarian Language and Literature in 1960. From that time until 1970, he worked as editor for periodicals in Kolozsvár and Bucharest while turning out a number of books, which included his own poetry and translations. His innovative use of language and breaking up the conventional forms of poetry put him in the forefront among his peers. He was married to Gizella Hervay for two years, but battled often-recurring episodes of depression. He committed suicide in 1976.

What Can the Poet Do?

 What indeed can our poet do?
 He can fill the sky
 by scribbling stars all over it
 while the astronomers are asleep.
 He can fill the garden by scribbling roses in it
 while May is asleep.
 He can fill the beach by scribbling sunshine on it
 while the sun is asleep.
 Oh, he can find a hundred and one
 ways to get around the procrastinators!
 He can scribble hope to fill
 time in rapid flight
 while the people are asleep.

ÁRPÁD FARKAS

Árpád Farkas was born in 1944 in a Hungarian village where his ancestors had farmed until the land was taken away by the Communist regime. While attending Babeş–Bolyai University (1961–1966) he started publishing in periodicals, and in 1967 his work was included in the anthology Vitorla (Sail). His first poetry volume, Másnapos ének (Hangover Song), came out in 1968. Numerous others followed, including several books of translations, most notably one in 1985 featuring works by Ana Blandiana, a Romanian poet who was blacklisted by the Communist regime. In his poetry, he often speaks out for the survival of his ethnic Hungarian minority in Romania. Farkas helped compile Maradok (I Remain). A selection of his poems, including the two featured here, will soon be published under the title Tunnels in the Snow.

Abroad

Salzburg, 1969
 

I’m hanging out here under Europe’s bright-lit windows
with the moonlight’s heavenly lime dripping from my face,
clawed red by the wind, enwrapped by a shower:
the waters of the Danube and Olt pour
and wash the tatters of my mantle.

Driven by hunger, your sole son has strayed far from the herd
and staggers in your winds, oh liberty!
Through the veils of rain
he feels the century’s blind face,
with mud-caked boots he keeps on kicking
Mozart’s cradle: – let him bawl!

I bump into everything!
All I want is just to walk on nicely, whistling in the rain,
(the china houses weep when I splatter mud on them),
and whispering sweet nothings to the foliage in secret
(while knocking the castle off the hill
with my clumsy elbow! The statue of the ETERNAL SONGSTER
turns to dust when I try a tune!).

My rain-soaked, homesick shadow is cast
only to the moon from here,
oh, Twentieth Century!

Though at home how peaceful and how open the herd is now,
steaming and fattening, pressed against the planks!
At the end of the first millennium of the great migrations
I cannot picture a better homethan there,
where even the brother bites your back,
not only the friend,
where the people chump on the flowers of barbarian pastures,
warm up by their stench,
and bare their knuckles for mere morsels of civilisation!
I’m hanging out here under Europe’s open windows,
a sudden wild squall blows the moonlight off my face,
all the way back home.

Old Folks

They’re sitting in the opalescent weather
under the eaves; it’s snowing, coming
down in enormous Central-Asian flakes.

Lambs are coming down or rabbits,
neighing milk-white stallions –:
with them winter plays fairy tales.

Some drawing emerges from behind
the rough curtain of snowfall –:
King Dul’s naked daughters dance.

The old folks get up with arms stretched,
and hesitantly, like the blind, they merge
with the shower of the shining light.

ZSÓFIA BALLA
 

Zsófia Balla was born in 1949 into an ethnic Hungarian Jewish family, a minority within a minority in Kolozsvár. Her public upbringing, anti-Hungarian and atheist, was prevalent at that time. Her father, a writer, introduced her to Hungarian literature, her mother taught her Jewish traditions. Her higher education was devoted to music (violin); on graduation she got a job with the music department of a Hungarian-language radio station. At the same time she started publishing her poems. When Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu closed down the radio station, she got a job as an editor. In the meantime her poetry gained popularity, as well as the attention of the authorities, and she was blacklisted for five years. During that time she received an award from the Romanian Writers Guild. After the regime change she moved to Hungary to work for a literary journal. She has published twelve volumes of poetry and received most major poetry prizes in Hungary.

Embrace

On a steep slope a breath shower.
The scattered red
mercury-balloons of touch.

The baby-beat of non-existence
that finds its way into the ocean.
Crimson rattle.

The meltdown of a rasp.
Powder snow unloosed

On the crest, on the blade.
At a downhill pace.

Call it a fragile pause. Call it
a teeny, unselfconscious death.

When You Came Home

At last, when you arrived at home
the gleam and glint were all in place
but I could not stand the waiting
and rushed ahead to hug your face.
 

At last, when you arrived at home
the drip was barely hanging in
the faucet, and the soap was dying
in its dish to touch your skin.

At last, when you arrived at home and
your footsteps began to tease the door,
just to be with you the sooner
I jumped down from the second floor.

ZOLTÁN BÖSZÖRMÉNYI

Zoltán Böszörményi, born in 1953, was educated in the Transylvanian-Hungarian area of Romania. As a young poet he was harassed by the Communist authorities of that time. He had no choice but escape, eventually finding a new home in Canada where he graduated from York University and got a job with an advertising agency. After the fall of Communism he went back to Romania to resume his literary career. He has published two novels in Paul Sohár’s translation: Far from Nothing (Exile Editions, Canada, 2006) and The Club at Eddie’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Ireland, 2013). His novel The Refugee was recently published in Berlin in German translation. He is working with Sohár on his first English poetry volume The Conscience of Trees, for Ragged Sky Press.

Holiday Fever
 

if the heart, if the heart,
if only the heart stopped that rattle”
Domokos Szilágyi,
The Book of the Old

the heart is rattling
celebration is no trivial matter
you need an occasion

(an occasion that may or
may not put you in the mood)
if something is about to commence or come to an end
it also holds in itself the holiday
in which the doubt
and invention
the opportunity
to invite the gods
like in the Greek tragedies
let them glisten like gold nuggets like
salt rocks brought up from the mine
when they meet with sunshine
and playful time smiles at them

the body too adapts to the holiday
chests swell up
spines become ramrod straight
although clumsily nature too pitches in
even helps with the memorial service
it rolls out the fog curtains of alabaster dawns
in front of the occupants of the stage
on the blinking screen hung in space
it plays back the cavalcade of memory tatters
(replaying what cannot be replayed)

we must let the tension dissipate
it’s good general well-being
the play-acting
mortals see a show like this only once in a lifetime
if they live to see that one
(nobody forces them to
take the bus to the bullfight in Acapulco
at four in the afternoon in tired heat
even one show is too many
disgusting slaughterhouse
bloodbath drowned in cruelty
the joyless drops of fear lashing the windowpane
on the other hand
this too is a kind of holiday)

Judas is desire
indecision in shards is a warm comforter
covers you with unlikely blue
the way the sky and sea used to wiggle
for eyes hungry for spectacle
reeling heights and depths on the retina of imagination
a holiday logo
coming from nothing to sing of its woe into the void

Francesco Petrarca 

I’m not at home in the hills of Arqua
Here, like everywhere, I’m a foreigner.
My father sent me to study law but it’s
Reading Cicero and Virgil I prefer.

The landscape fills my heart with glow,
Devils and angels keep haunting me.
I survived Florence and Avignon,
To sonnet though I can’t claim paternity.

As someone well-versed in prosody,
I hold Latin syllables under my tongue,
Laura’s eyes are my constant company,

Where the people are neither old nor young.
Ulysses fate follows my fate wherever I go,
In the unclouded sky of Padua I’m the glow.

GÉZA SZŐCS

Géza Szőcs, poet, writer, journalist and politician, was born in 1953 in Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureş), Romania, into an urban ethnic Hungarian family. He published his first volume of poetry as a student at the Hungarian and Russian Departments of Babeş–Bolyai University in Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca). After graduation in 1978 he worked for a newspaper until 1979, when he left to study at the University of Vienna on a Herder Scholarship for a year. Back in Romania, his journalistic and literary career was hampered by harassment from the Securitate, the political police, for activities on behalf of his ethnic minority. In 1986 he was allowed to move to Switzerland. The regime change made it possible for him to return home. Since then he supplemented his writing career with various political and editorial positions in Hungary. His poems have been published in Chinese, French, Italian, Romanian, and recently in English: Liberty, Rats and Sandpaper (Iniquity Press, 2016). Poems featured here are from his early period, written in the surrealist world of a totalitarian society in the style he developed then and continues to use in the present day.

Indian Words on the Radio

To poet William Least Heat Moon

 The Indians of the prairie will not let us down.
 Others yes, but not them, they will not let us down.
 Had they known what was to take place at Segesvár
 – but they knew not what was to take place at Segesvár
 surely they would have shown up too,
 some would have known they were coming too:
 General papa Bem, the Indians are coming, they would have said,
 one morning to papa Bem this is what they would have said:
 across the Bering Strait
 across the Bering Strait
 an Indian cavalry is on its way,
 cutting across Siberia
 cutting its way to us
 it’s coming to our aid –

the valiant officers would have talked like this,
tossing their gold-braided hats up in the air.

 My Indian brother, we haven’t even got a reservation.
 Ghetto, Bantustan, a reservation
 sometimes would be fine with us, but we have none.
 The tribe gets together in the cafe,
 we stand around a lot in the cafe.
 Miss, don’t spare the Indian pie.
 That’s what we say but to ourselves we think
 but to ourselves we actually think:
 some day a few Indians
 across the Bering Strait
 across any kind of strait
 will cut their way through to us
 to come to our aid
 to come to our aid.

The Indians do not let anybody down.
The Indians will not let us down.

When You Become the U.S. President

 when you become the u.s. president
 and with golden water pistols in your pocket
 you play cops-and-robbers by yourself
 in the corridors of the white house
 or else you walk outside to stand on the democratic demarcation line
 or walk out to stand on the dividing line or the continental divide
 you drink a cocktail of nitric acid so you can tell base metals from gold,
 when you separate evil from good
 and the useless from the useful:
 one imperceptible move and you can’t tell
 if you’ve stepped over the hill
 to the other side of your life
 or you are still here

*

the continental divide and a cocktail of acids,
you’re past the halftime

you’ll play hide and seek
and bury the black box containing your last words
in the basement of the white house,
you’ll be digging in the basement of the white house
with a computer crucifix on your forehead, wearing galoshes
and the hot line twisted around your neck,
when you become the u.s. or the russian president.

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