10. 19. 2015. 10:52

December, morning (poems)

"Living makes me feel lonely, / living and writing make me feel more lonely, / living and writing in English in Hungary / make me feel the most lonely / but I cannot resist the challenge."

"One needs to be extremely brave, even reckless, to write in a foreign language? Perhaps. But not more so than to write in one's mother tongue, or, in fact, to write at all," says Imre Oravecz. The 72-year-old poet had spent several stints in the US in the 1970s, as resident of the Iowa Writers Workshop, then as a postgraduate student; in the 1980s, he was a visiting professor in California. He travelled a lot through the country with his son. He was not the first in his family: his grandfather left Hungary for America in the great wave of emigration that started in the 1870s and lasted up to World War I. (Oravecz documented the life of his grandparents in his 2012 novel, Californian Quail.) The following poems, published here by courtesy of Magvető Press, Budapest, are excerpted from a forthcoming collection of Oravecz's poems written between 2005 and 2014, entitled távozó fa.

Jay geometry

Lying with lumbago in bed
I am facing the window of the garret room,

it cuts a blue square
out of the winter sky,
and frames a mass of bent, slurred
branches of the barren maple tree
that reaches over the roof,

suddenly a jay enters the left lower corner,
climbs adroitly up the twigs
and disappears at the right upper corner,

I almost feel relieved
by the imaginary diagonal
it has drawn across
the chaotic tangle of lines.


Living makes me feel lonely,
living and writing make me feel more lonely,
living and writing in English in Hungary
make me feel the most lonely
but I cannot resist the challenge.


A planet in outer space,
a continent on the planet,
a country on the continent,
blue sky over the country,
a mountain under the blue sky,
two ridges of hills in the mountain,
a valley between the two ridges,
a floor in the valley,
a creek in the middle of the floor,
broken ice in the creek,
water in the broken ice,
an otter family playing in the water,
banks above the playing otter family,
dead reeds on the banks,
a pathway in the dead reeds,
me standing on the pathway,
and trying, in vain, to embrace
all this over and under me
while I am having a rest on my winter stroll.

Account of an Eastern European farmer’s offspring

forest gone,
fields gone,
wheat gone,
corn gone,
horses gone,
wagons gone,
tools gone,
pastures gone,
hay gone,
chickens gone,
hogs gone,
barn gone,
well gone,
father gone,
mother gone,
garden gone,
house gone,
yard gone,
dog gone,
cat gone,
neighbours gone,
class gone,
culture gone,

I am the only one left
and feel like a wild Indian,
a last member of his tribe in the late nineteenth century
before he gets hunted down by the US army,
that are after him in the mountains.


Someone’s been trapping pheasants in the valley bottom reeds,
his snares of coiled wires
are placed across their trails,

the other day I managed
to free one on my stroll,

hearing the desperate flapping of wings
I ran off the footpath
to where it came from,

it did not resist
once I grabbed it,
it became very calm, silent,
and let me remove its neck
from the deadly noose,

only when I put it down
and it dashed headlong away,
did it start crying in an unearthly voice
that chilled me to the spine.


(Western Nebraska, 1973)

Clear winter sky,
pouring, glaring sunshine,
and clean, transparent air,
being tossed into my lungs by the wind
as I am standing by the car
on the shoulder of Interstate 80
and looking at the start of the West,

no towns, no farms, no man,
only the immense talking space,
endless yellow-brown flats,
an ascending ridge of the coming buttes in the distance,
blue bodies of flood water here and there,
the sparkling ribbon of the Platte river in the middle,
and patches of dry weeds and reeds nearby
with huge, white tree trunks in them,
fallen, broken, unbroken, abandoned, neglected
looking like scattered, bleached bones of a giant
that once was America.

The Chicago experience

The very fact that I am not a US citizen
and live in my native Hungary
is due to mutual frustration by racism,

when I applied for political asylum
in the Chicago Federal Building in 1976
and a former friend of mine accompanying me
and the black clerk handling my case
got into a hot argument about the issue of priorities
and ended up shouting at each other:
Are you saying this because I’m white?
Are you saying this because I’m black?

I became so much discouraged
that I decided I had no chance
and returned to Soviet-ruled Hungary
although the asylum was granted after all
as I learned years later.

End of the dream

My family has been trying to take roots in America for over a hundred years,

my grandfather migrated to the States at the end of the 19th century,
but ruined family life by excessive drinking,
my father was raised in Canada
but was taken by his mother back to Hungary at the age of eighteen,

I also spent years in the US
but had no guts to stay for good,

my older son was with me there, too,
and got so much involved
that he became bilingual
and for years it seemed
he would be the one to make it
but he is unlikely to take his chance now
as he studies Chinese
and his interest is in Asia,
so with him our dream of the American Dream is coming to an end.

Tags: Imre Oravecz