CAUGHT IN THE NET 59 - POETRY BY THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND
Series Editor - Jim Bennett
Introduction by Jim Bennett
Hello. Welcome to the next in the series of CITN featured poets. We will be looking at the work of a different poet in each edition and I hope it will help our readers to discover some new and exciting writing. This series is open to all to submit and I am now keen to read new work for this series.
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and following the links for Caught in the Net.
City of light and city of darkness where Wallenberg
and Eichmann dueled to the death for our lives!
One to be remembered truly forever
as a torch of radiant hope for the human spirit,
the other a blot on the very soul of humanity.
from; Irenes Siege by THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND
1 - BIOGRAPHY
2 – POETRY
3 - AFTERWORD
1 – BIOGRAPHY: THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND
THOMAS ORSZÁG-LAND (b. 1938) is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent who writes from London and his native Budapest. He survived the Holocaust as a Jewish child hiding from both the Nazis and the Allied bombers. He took part in the 1956 Hungarian revolution against Soviet rule as a journalist on the staff of A Magyar Függetlenség. He later read philosophy at Acadia University in Nova Scotia and trained on United Press International in Montreal and The Times and The Financial Times of London. His poetry has been published by The London Magazine and The New York Times, his reviews and polemics by Poetry Review and The Times Literary Supplement. His books include eight collections of poetry in many editions, including English translations from the Hungarian of work by several little known, major Holocaust poets. His next book will be Christmas in Auschwitz: Holocaust Poetry Translated from the Hungarian of András Mezei (Smokestack, England, 2010). He can be reached at Thomland111@Hotmail.Com
2 - POETRY
THE LION TAMER
Around the rails, the circus crowd sits pale
to watch the beasts perform the tricks they loathe --
They hope that I, their tamer, may just fail.
But with my whip I will control them both.
I have outfaced the adulating crowd
and I have learned to ride the lions' rage --
My early quest for freedom had its shroud
in fame found here within the circus cage.
For freedom, I pursued the painted lights
(while others dreamed of flight in tame unrest)
in tearful longing past a thousand sights --
Within my trade, today I am the best
and watch the crowd behind its fearful mask
and watch the painted lights that will seduce --
The lions' foolish master, thus I ask
if there's still time to put my life to use.
Published by Acumen, The New York Times & Poetry Platform
In memoriam Kurt Waldheim...*
Small world, what, Excellency? We shall not shake hands.
I do not care how you manage to live with the murder of children
among the conquered women and spoilt vineyards and olivegroves
back in the Balkans, back in your youth: that is your affair.
But what you have done, to me and my world, that’s mine.
At last, our final meeting. You were an obedient officer
ordered to make a corpse of me, perforce a small one.
I have survived the mayhem to make a poem of you.
I am more generous than you and far more consistent.
Old soldiers like you in public life can still be of use.
Admit the past for the sake of the future, and go in peace
at the mercy of your smouldering, sordid, meandering memories.
Or dare to persist in denying the truth and the value of life,
pretend that nothing occurred to stir your attention,
and I promise you will never escape the stench of corpses:
for I will record your name as well as the crimes
from which you say you averted your indifferent eyes,
in tales of horror to be recounted throughout the ages
till the end of the march of innocent future generations
to weigh up anew, again and again, and recoil from your life.
*... (1918-2007), former president of Austria, secretary-general
of the United Nations and intelligence officer of Hitler's
Wehrmacht, who died peacefully days after publicly repenting
his silence over the atrocities.
Published by Ambit, Poetry Monthly Snakeskin & Staple
Since I was young, I've been the youngest
and worshipped Venus in the sacred
and fragrant colonnades of even
her humblest serving maids.
Some of the time I've managed to
ignore the silly rules, and valued
a graceful poem higher than
a contract of employment.
And thus I've spent my life surrounded
by books and children. Now my grandson
advises me to act my age.
Poor stranger, I've been younger than you
for longer than you would remember.
I've celebrated life so long
I am too old to change.
Published by Candelabrum, Poetry Nottingham, The Spectator & The Recusant
All is never lost or spent --
the most virtuous maiden,
the dullest descendant
retains a sacred scent
from the Garden
Published by Contemporary Rhyme
LANDSCAPE WITH KNIFEWOUND
This is a landscape abandoned by gentle giants,
this edge of Cornwall where the calm
and soft, continuous curve of the rising hills
abruptly crashes into the ocean
down sheer and raw and ravaged, windworn cliffs,
down screaming depths to the boiling water --
its rockface baring the throbbing, layered structure
of granite beneath the stricken landscape,
exposing the sundazed pith to the lashing light
above and the gaze of hovering hunters:
the creatures of the heights and depths that lightly
approach the coastline from the ocean.
But landsmen reach the coast by navigating
their way along careful housing estates,
rogue industries, satellite dishes and rainsoaked farms
deserted by their young and the future;
and they arrive entirely unprepared
for the rupture, the urgent, brutal line
dividing the sullen soil that covers the cliffs
from the ocean washed by the splashing light --
the line of violence torn across the horizon
from end to end like a savage knifewound
too deep and keen and sudden and surprising
to hurt in the moment of its infliction.
Such landscapes of the soul inherited
from giants confront the innocent traveller
with a surge of passion at the edge of routine
experience, as in poetry or love.
Published by Envoi & Poetry Can
LIKE A RIVER
Like a river, you carry me down
washing over my senses
the fort of my seven skins has abandoned
the rite of defence to the waves
unsheltered, my nerve-raw flesh in its freedom
spatters into the current
like a river, you carry me down
between singing, mountainous shores.
Published by Coffee House, Escape into Life & Wayfarers
For James Fenton
Floating among the ice, these peaceful
soft, curly shapes reflect the sky.
The river rocks them lightly, gently,
their pace appearing slow and graceful
beneath the evening’s silver mantle.
We cannot see the fish below, but
discern from here a place of worship
that dominates this wounded landscape.
The fish cannot disturb the dead.
Indifferent, the murdered lie
swelling our rivers of history.
A friendly warlord has purged a delicate
threatening issue of principles
(which we regret). You must have heard:
a war afar stirs passions once
it has occurred on television.
They’ve left behind a tidy village
of great importance -- once, to them,
the toil of ruined generations,
a scent of sweat, the stench of fear,
spent cartridges trampled into the snow
and children recoiled from adult ways,
potential witnesses still in hiding
in crumpled bedrooms (which we regret).
Others I know marched calmly at gunpoint
and left their clothes and shoes on the shore.
They were received by the surging waves
tied in pairs to prevent survival,
to float forever towards the sea
-- rejected by oblivion.
We have erected a monument
to urge humanity: Never Again!
...A monument secured by our stubborn
pillars of fear that make us insane and
succumb to the lure of the tranquil river.
The icy current coils beyond
our will and wailing. Hear this dirge
composed for you and me, undated.
It mourns the living. We calculate
our fate in sums of overkill.
Published by Ambit & The Penniless Press
I begin with that overcrowded single bed,
my home in the winter of ‘44/45
when public affairs assumed a dismaying mask
and the threat of panic was graver even than death.
It wasn’t very wide and it lacked a headboard,
its pillows were soaked in moisture from the wall
inside the entrance of the air-raid shelter
beneath a Nazi Arrowcross Party centre.
I shared that bed through the siege of Budapest
with Irene, my mother, and my two big brothers,
one just 11, the other turning 15,
a Jewish family petrified in hiding.
A word for genocide had not been invented.
My dysentery was beyond control. Its stench
mingled with the cooking smells and the odour
of fear polluting the musty, smoke-filled cellar.
And the cellar was full of homicidal Nazis
at the brink of hysteria, under constant bombardment,
awaiting their fate as the Soviets approached the gates.
The law of the siege prescribed the execution
of carriers of communicable diseases
-- like me. I think I was saved by the cotton wool
that I nightly stole from a nearby first-aid station.
It blocked the loo, and that was blamed for the stink.
My desperate mother had sought refuge from Auschwitz,
with a stack of doctored documents I still treasure,
in that howling den of hatred. A daring ploy:
she posed as the wife of an officer at the front
and claimed a vacant flat in that elegant building
that had been cleared of decent folks by the Nazis.
We were hardly allowed to use our looted flat,
its windows blown with the blasts, between the blackouts.
Irene had engaged in a calculated act
of audacious gamble, deliberately seeking out
the hunters, the hunters! the hunters, for they would least
expect to find the hunted within their pack.
Even I knew the odds. But I have survived to write this.
There might have been two alternatives: suicide
or terror and probable death in the ghetto, exposed
to hunger, disease and the fancy of uniformed bandits.
Instead, we lived with them and heard their descriptions
of what they had done and seen, as we helped each other
to play our roles in an endless performance for life.
We were observed all the time by a constant queue
that stretched past our bed to the overflowing lavatory.
Questions were raised about the persistent theft
of first-aid supplies. Then, in a rare lull of the air-raids,
the Gestapo swooped one day to arrest Irene.
And how we could act!… Victor the Wolf appeared
in the dusty cellar inspecting the huddled children.
A little rant he was, but preened like a hero: his Hitler
moustache was sculpted, his uniform carefully pressed.
His three-quarter burgundy leather jacket glowed,
his gun holster glittered in the paraffin light.
He was blunt: The game is up, we know who you are.
Your mother is off to the Danube, feeding the fish.
But you can save yourselves... If you are smart
and admit to the truth while you may, you will be safe
in a home we run in the region for nice little Jewboys.
What do you say? A wink: You know you can trust me.
But George, the oldest brother, confronted him:
How dare you slander the sons and the wife of an officer
above your rank? I shall report you at once!
Paul piled it on: You only act big with children
behind our father’s back while he’s doing his duty...
Go on, be brave at the front! As for me, I dried
my eyes to stare very hard, and tried not to blink.
Did our robust retort confuse the ambush?
What else might explain why Victor failed his chance
for the Arrowcross test of race -- to look for proof
beneath the duvet in a country where only
Jews and some foreigners had their sons circumcised?
And Irene? More than six decades later, I reconstruct
the drama from her old stories, probably accurate.
She was small and strong. She was protected by passion.
A butcher's daughter in love with her gentleman husband,
at 37 she must have been at her prime,
entirely devoted to her refusal to die.
Expressive, widely set eyes, high cheekbones, arched brow.
Her firm and generous body was tried by hunger.
In a bygone existence, a mischievous brother once chased
me into the bathroom where she stood reaching towards
the towel: she smiled at me like a goddess and stamped
into my heart the glory of female beauty.
Now she stood in the over-draped drawing room
of a fortified Schwab Hill villa in Buda, adjacent
to Hotel Majestic, the base of Eichmann's detachment
administering the racial cleansing of Europe.
Before her, a line of suspects led up to an "expert"
of human classification, in charge of their fate.
The woman in front of my mother was a brunette,
like Irene, but you could not tell if she was a Jewess.
Distinctive Jewish features do not exist.
The disgruntled specialist wielding the final decision
was weary of whining. The woman at last
before his polished desk was too frightened to whine.
My mother watched as the woman unfolded some papers,
to be dismissed with a flick of his manicured fingers.
His hand reached forward in a continuing movement
as he rose from his chair and almost gently took hold
of her chignon hung lean against the nape of her neck.
He drew her head towards the electric light
above the fateful desk and carefully studied
the shape of her nose in profile. Her ashen lips
gave way to the mute, vibrating grimace of panic.
He did not pronounce a decision, just tossed the papers
into the bin. The queue moved forward again.
The whimpering woman was dragged out by two soldiers.
Irene then seized the pink hand and shook it with cordial
admiration. My dear doctor, she purred,
you amaze me. That Jewess might have deceived me.
But you have unmasked her. Accept my congratulations.
The official recognized a voice with authority.
Oh, madam, he clucked in toners of genuine modesty,
we do what we can, but the task is frightfully hard.
The devious Jews never cease to invent new tricks
to subvert the cause… But why are you here? She sighed
with suffering patience. He added: Our agents are urged
to be vigilant at this hour of national peril.
Still, they must answer for disturbing your peace.
And he sent her home to avert yet further distress,
escorted by four officers, with his apologies.
The vehicle's headlights were switched off: a precaution
despite the restful pause in the Allied bombing.
The empty, snowbound, freezing streets were lit
by the brilliant fireworks of the cloudless sky.
My abused and defenceless city lay numbed by terror.
A rumble of artillery fire bounced over
the Buda hills as the party crossed the wide river.
The crackle of small arms fire told of the raids
of Arrowcross gangs on civilian shelters, staged
under pretext of hunting for Jews and deserters.
Few people ventured out between the curfews,
mostly women and children, driven by hunger.
Their young men were lost. Even the old and some boys
unfit to fight were being deployed in the path
of the Soviets by the German occupiers
and their pitiless local “brothers-in-arms”.
And the city was being destroyed by the bombs so fast
that untended pain and panic reigned in the ruins.
Irene was of this city and knew every alley
far better than any military driver.
True to herself, she was to remain for life
faithful to her love of this treacherous city.
City of light and city of darkness where Wallenberg
and Eichmann duelled to the death for our lives!
One to be remembered truly forever
as a torch of radiant hope for the human spirit,
the other a blot on the very soul of humanity.
The deportations to murder, from which Wallenberg
managed to rescue legions of captives, persisted
until the tightening noose of the Soviet siege
duly severed all communications.
The orgy of death went on to the end in the ghetto.
The city was made to pay a horrible price
for its foolish embrace of the Nazi rule of Europe.
Irene caught a fleeting glimpse in the twilight of shrunken
abandoned corpses here and there on the pavements.
There were no animal corpses. Like rats, the civilians
converged on the dying horses as soon as they
collapsed from fatigue, and tore them apart for food.
... At last my exhausted mother was safely delivered
to her destination by her gallant escorts.
They greeted the sentry, saluted and clicked their heels
and turned to meet their own, very different destiny.
Irene flew down the stairs -- each step a joy! --
to the children sitting up in the bed that was
our home at 66 Pannonia Street.
Published by the BBC World Service, Contemporary Review & The London Magazine
READING FOR RUSH HOUR
Rational thinkers, what can you make
out of a nightmare seen fully awake?
Nightmare, funeral, watch it if you dare --
crawling at the crossroads everywhere:
slow hearse upon hearse driven nose-to-tail
by exhaling corpses, drawn and frail
and through each damp windscreen, the light will betray
your very own features decayed with the day.
O, the faces, the faces I know. I am greeting
reliable Richard approaching; he cannot see me
on his way to his well valued vault with central heating,
airtight, sound in predictable monogamy.
He welcomed me there as a boy.
His clever spectacles blind, his moustache still growing,
he sells life insurance policies to the dead.
His tranquillised, loyal wife (I cannot help knowing)
dreamed of me in her spotless, guilty bed --
to his lukewarm, conjugal joy.
Yet he had been alive to passion and anger
and raged at foul indifference till, stage by stage,
he gave himself up to monotony's languor
for death alone could save him from middle age.
Richard worked. Outside, the living seasons faded.
Like so many, he grew valued in his trade
and his fierce opinions slowly lost their meaning.
Yet his feelings still can flare (as I have seen)
when he shelters refugees.
Dear Richard, rest in peace.
Here comes Orgie Porgie, absorbed contriving
manly new achievements, carefully driving
his hearse to his home below.
His swollen corpse of a child is slowly blending
into the business suit of his funeral day,
a fumbling toy manufacturer earnestly bending
to adult games -- but he has forgotten how to play.
He buried himself in a hungry portfolio;
so well imitating the shades in the money profession,
he managed to die of repression.
But life penetrates the shallow graves like teeming
mould employed to re-manufacture the earth,
and when he's not counting his liquid assets' worth
poor Orgie Porgie goes on dimly dreaming --
He sees himself as a hesitant
visitor in a butchery-plant
where living beasts are stripped of their hides to increase
the marketability of their flesh, thus enriching
profit returns: alive and naked and twitching...
Gentle Orgie Porgie, rest in peace.
That well known figure advancing like infection
is the corpse of Thomas Wonder-Land, Esq.,
a master of gaining the gullible graveyard's affection
for any truth without actually being a liar.
He boasts, for public service he never gave,
a newspaper by-line across his early grave.
He was once a poet
but poetry didn't pay,
so he chose to conform to a lucrative line and to tow it
hereafter: he died insisting he'd had his own say.
His women sought love; he pinned them in style
like leaves on his wreath, a mean lover displaying a lean,
where his sensuous lips had been.
Like a scalpel, he wields cautious views on communal affairs,
a cold writer scorched by private emotions he dares
not admit; but in public he does not scruple to giving
advice inciting the world to catastrophes
for even a rotten writer must make a living.
Wretched, unhappy departed, rest in peace.
Faces, dead faces, O
the faces, the faces I know.
Uniformed Roger drives a policeman's hearse
for he failed to become a musician, duty bound
to safeguard the graveyard's rest from the dubious curse
of troublesome souls who might raise a disturbing sound.
And property agent Alec so good at selling
he can disregard the essential use of a dwelling.
And the aircraft assembler returns without questions to bed
so deep he can't hear the bombers overhead.
And the scientist doesn't mind in his funeral ride
whether he worked on semen or humanicide.
Faces that melt and faces that slowly harden,
unseeing eyeballs and withering, yellow skin
shaded by windscreens, taking their daily place
devoid of intensity, mischief or love or sin
in an endless procession led by a hearse from space
with a corpse that forgot to cultivate his garden.
Corpses, let it cease,
corpses, rest in peace...
Rational thinkers, shall we ever
bridge our divorce from passion that drives
people to give up their precious lives
and bury themselves through their own endeavour?
Our sombre vehicles make their way
in endless, divergent lines that betray
the earth; unfeeling they coil with ease
and spread like maggots through a cheese.
I must take my place in my own unblessed
premature funeral, or try to revive
these volunteers seeking the final rest
before they bury the world alive.
Published by Resurgence & Snakeskin
WHEN HATRED RULES
When hatred rules the nations,
I choose without regret
to be a refugee
among the patriots.
Published by Reflections
My name? Kurt Eichmann. I am the son, not the monster.
You may relax your face. I am your age
and you and I both share my father's shame.
You think you're innocent? I'm responsible
for my father's deeds just as you are for yours.
I am condemned by my inheritance,
the trains and Auschwitz. So is all humanity.
I must embrace my place and role, and bear
my name for I can rearrange the past
no more than you can change your skeleton.
He looked like me, my father. He was warm,
he loved his children, women, fun and flowers.
He obeyed in full the exterminating state
and thought in terms of tame processing quotas.
Perhaps he managed to avert his eyes
from the purpose of the national enterprise --
perhaps he was, like his entire nation,
hysterically drunk with fear and hatred --
or, like me, he thought he must fulfil his role --
He is condemned for lacking exceptional courage.
And did he love the stench of burning flesh?
He was a man of the stopwatch, not the gun,
an author only of railway timetables, an architect
of ovens only and chimneys, a planner translating
the people's will to kill into detailed instruction,
a man of industry only doing his job.
He thus extended human experience by learning
to channel rage and passion into detachment
and patient dedication to a purpose
beyond a person's modest comprehension.
Today we know we all need exceptional courage
and all of us must answer for our souls.
I am a German and heir to Goethe's poetry,
a European, heir to the dream of Erasmus,
a Christian, heir to the faith of Jesus the Jew.
I am condemned to keep alive the name
that must confront humanity with our
capacity for suicidal detachment
as well as love. My role is to enhance
our common inclination towards survival.
Published by The Journal, Pennine Platform & Snakeskin
4 - Afterword
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