STEPS by Eszter Forrai
translated from the Hungarian and edited by Thomas Ország-Land (July 2011)
Eszter Forrai (b. 1938) is a Jewish-Hungarian poet and painter who lives in Paris.
Mistletoe glowing white like marbles,
bunched with tiny leaves.
Streets festooned with mistletoe.
The sight of graceful pinetrees.
I leave a grieving daughter’s bouquet
upon an unknown grave.
And I remember the bars before me,
behind me, imagined and real.
Mother had filled the children’s stomachs
with stolen cabbage leaves.
Sand grated under our teeth... We had
not even crusts of bread.
Beyond the bars, the guard is slowly
pacing along his path.
The pacing soldier’s tunic is grey,
its buttons are glowing gold,
and we are waiting behind the bars.
I count the buttons. Eight.
His steps still echo through the yard.
Tonight they killed my father.
Climbing or descending,
these steps of the river embankment,
these steep stone slabs of the quay
form a stairway up from the playful waves
towards the sun in the heavens
and the soothing quilt of the sky
that hold the world in warmth.
But then it was January
and the steps were cruelly cold,
the steps that led down to the icy Danube –
we were told to remove our shoes
and stand in barefooted lines
as the soldiers loaded their rifles
beneath the weeping sky.
The soldiers were not aiming toy guns.
The siege was not played out with toy bombs,
and we had not even time
to blow our dreams away –
And the infamy was witnessed
by the orphaned lines of the children’s
shoes, awaiting our fate on the quay.
My daughter’s very first steps...
A conquest, a leap to the target,
a ribbon-ripping, brilliant
epic triumph! My stumbling,
intrepid, robust princess
has boldly set out! Sarah walks.
Lo! Her frozen terrain
has come alive. The walls
around her have steadied. And,
to the sound of her hesitant steps,
I learn to adjust my life.
Green is this rustic, lakeside world
that I’ve adopted,
with a riot of scattering silver pearls
of my daughter’s laughter, the lines
of unfolding yellow water-lilies
and a glowing grey and green-blue sky.
I’ve brought ladybirds to ride them
over the deep –
The sky is turning somersaults,
its chuckles exploding in cheerful vapours;
but the evening trees below
are sighing, sighing gusts of storms.
Native to these woodland slopes,
we race across them.
Our healthy bodies pulse to our rhythm
and love of dancing, they whirl in step
with the music of bluebells.
A volcano aged 16: the silent
flow of Sarah’s yearning has burst.
My green-eyed daughter clasps to her breasts
a blue-eyed lad, and I watch from afar
the raging lava, the vapours, the flames,
the incandescent burning rocks
of her passion blasting skywards –
my daughter has turned 16 and embarked
on the Milky Way of adult emotions.
I behold the pulsating glow of her star,
I hearken to the pace of her heartbeat
from a distant planet by the waters
lapping against the steps of the quay.
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent based in Budapest. His recent books of Holocaust poetry translated from the Hungarian include DEATHMARCH by Miklós Radnóti (Snakeslin & The Penniless Press, England, 2009) and CHRISTMAS IN AUSCHWITZ by András Mezei (Smokestack Press, England, 2010).
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