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.

Beneath Pannonia's Sky

translated from the Hungarian by Thomas Land

The road turns by the press-house and a white
mud village greets me huddling to the right,

blue winding polished hill road that I see
with an intruder's curiosity

with not a soul just trees and tidy lines
of modest homes with aerials and vines

past wine vaults and beneath Pannonia's sky
a grey prophet
a little donkey ambles by

she waves back with a mother-of-pearl ear

the prosperous plebeian class dwelled here

when carts of travelling merchants left a track
along these gentle hills five centuries back:

calm bakers of brown loaves and honey-bread
they watched above the mounting thunderhead

behind them a castle resounded with music and dance
of the Renaissance with Italian elegance

and roads took root wherever their carts would ply
their trundling trade beneath Pannonia's sky

in his brown caftan tightly wrapped, one day
my own forefather might have come this way

and where I stand he might have glanced and slowed
his pace to preach with caution by the road

perhaps that other one, more sober, plain
made fancy saffian footwear by the lane

as his wife with amber eyes surveyed the ground
and kept her guard against a hostile hound

and a toddler played about her gathering
herbs from these very slopes and she would sing

their psalms and their tanned leathers' scent would fill
the air and travel far beyond the hill

surviving winters, with the gales they flew
and from the maggots' entrails rose anew...

these lands caress them softly like a shroud
they came unasked and graceful like a cloud

they were, as I protect and hold to my
own soil, protected by Pannonia's sky:

both ways the road winds blue beyond your span
so leave this land and run, run... if you can.

Ágnes Gergely

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

Snakeskin logo