Ágnes Gergely (b. 1933), poet, novelist, scholar. A descendant of generations of rabbis and men of letters, she was one of the first major Hungarian writers to explore in public print during the Soviet era the long-suppressed experience of East European Holocaust survivors. She is a recipient of the prestigious Kossuth Literary Prize.
Sign on my Doorjamb
 In memoriam my father

translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Land

I do not cherish memories
and even those I hold I do not safeguard.
I do not seek forgotten graveyards.
Organic chemistry does not move me.

Yet, at times like this, towards November
as fog-damped windows seal this room
and I gasp for air and relief, I am surprised  
—  not knowing where your body lies —
when I’m confronted by your odd gestures
arising through the waters of my mind.

I feel your long and nervous fingers as they
arrange a Thermos flask and a pocket knife
with an old can opener in the gaping knapsack,
and also warm underclothes and a prayer-book
and under the weightless load you still can carry
I share the creaking surprise of your back.
I sense your departure. Elegant tramp, you set out,
you’d never leave the house, you only set out,
and look back laughing, aged just 38 years,
and you nod and you gesture, I'll soon be back
your birthday should have been the next day —
though you whimper inwards like a Mednyánszky portrait
and you wave — and how and how you wave!

Sign on my doorjamb, you've remained:
and Ferdinand Bridge, the sludgy march, the bars,
the fatal empty weakness, the gorging of grass —
forget these freak inventions of the mind.
For I have lied: I see you often
beneath the stifling, low November sky...
You’re setting out with me, breathing within me.
I’m letting your tears go dribbling down my throat
and above, where it has no business, that thin
Memphis cigarette... struck from your mouth
is burning through the skin of a star.

Ágnes Gergely

If you have any comments on this poem, the translator would be pleased to hear them.

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