Wednesday, July 18, 2012


"A madjar nyelv már vesz el. Mi örögek vadjunk még, beszélünk madjarul, de az éfijúság, ezek a tinerek, ezek nem. A zién lejányom még beszél, de ja ziszkólába sak oláhul tanult, nem madjarul. De tud madjarul jól. Az onkáim isz tudnak madjarul, de nem ura fórdjiccák vissza."       —Fotó: Ádám Gyula

—from a photo by Gyula Ádám

Csángó Magyar woman sits
in a windowed alcove stained
the color of a forgotten summer sky.
Her mind is lost in the crenulated folds
of memory and the wars, and those who left,
but her hands still know the path
to the freshly baked cornbread
moist and warm from the kemence.
Crumbs cling to the lip of the knife like a lover.
The cat speaks and weaves an intricate knot
between the staves of a 3-legged stool
that was once a wagon wheel
straddling the ruts on a dirt road,
now planted in the barren clay floor,
as the photographer records
the death rattle of an old way of life
threatened by time and culture.
She is dressed in maroon and black.
At her age, mourning is a state of being.
She wears new running shoes,
the only concession to this age.
But even Nikes will not carry her to victory.
Her sad eyes that witnessed the atrocities
of war and the devastation of her culture,
can no longer see the lacy intricacies of light
and shadow playing on the oblique walls,
billowing like stormclouds on the horizon.
The limed stucco ceiling, stained
a robin's-egg-blue to ward off the evil eye,
sloughed off in the shape of a sacred heart
to reveal the the ribs of old wood and reed.
Clouded eyes that witnessed myriad winters,
are the secret color of bauchy ice.
She can no longer see the small stitches
her skilled fingers once embroidered
on the fine tapestries covering the wall,
enscribed in a fractal language of flower & field.
The meaning of the ancient patterns—
a mother tongue translated in gutteral runes
drawn in crimson and woad, a dying language
forgotten by the modern world,
only whispered in the funereal corners
of the past.


kemence (phonetic: ke-men-se) is an old style earth oven/hearth.

Note bene: When I began writing this ekphrastic poem, I sensed many things, mainly the death of a folk culture. I had no idea what the backstory was or even the specific culture. I wrote blind. I wrote my way towards knowledge. It reminded me of the Irish culture, the loss and devastation of our language and culture at the hands of Great Britain and the Church.

A Hungarian-American friend, Andrew Fecskes later filled me in on the backstory, boldly translating this photo caption (below) written in an obscure archaic dialect of Old Hungarian—that even Google Translator couldn't attempt!
"A madjar nyelv már vesz el. Mi örögek vadjunk még, beszélünk madjarul, de az éfijúság, ezek a tinerek, ezek nem. A zién lejányom még beszél, de ja ziszkólába sak oláhul tanult, nem madjarul. De tud madjarul jól. Az onkáim isz tudnak madjarul, de nem ura fórdjiccák vissza."       —Fotó: Ádám Gyula
Translation: “The Magyar language is getting lost. We old ones are still here, we speak Magyar, but the young ones, these ‘teeners’, they don’t. My daughter still speaks, but in the school where she studied, not in Magyar. But she knows how to speak Magyar well. My grandchildren also know (how to speak Magyar), but they cannot turn the clock back." —Tr., Andrew Fecskes 
Andrew Fecskes added: The Csángó people's language and culture is "ancient Magyar," almost  like a time capsule. They live in Moldavia, Romania. Their culture is denied, and the government insists that they are not ethnic Magyars. So their culture is being eradicated.

The situation with the millions of ethnic Hungarians, who were stranded outside Hungary's political borders by Trianon (treaty ending WWI), is really difficult. The Magyar people believe that there will be a reuniting. Regarding rights to the picture, the site is in a very faraway place, can't get there from here...the picture is of an old woman who knows that her history will be lost forever. 

So I began to sleuth out the backstory on Wiki. I found:
Perugia, 14 November 1234: Pope Gregory IX to Bela IV, king of Hungary: "In the Cuman bishopric - as we were informed - is living a people called Vallah and others, Hungarians and Germans as well, who came here from the Hungarian Kingdom." —Wiki

Vallah: As in Wall, Walch = stranger. Wallachia. The land of strangers. Yes, I know this word. This connection might go far to explain the bagpipes. (See my Redheads blog).
WAL-GAL-Wall-/wallha- a Germanic prefix, means strangers (or Romans, but not Germans), signifies non Latin-speaking Celts. It was used to describe Romanised inhabitants of the former Roman Empire, who spoke proto-Latin or Celtic languages. (Old English: 'wealh' is 'foreigner' or 'stranger'). Walha is also a possible corruption of the name of a Celtic tribal confederation, Caesar's nemesis, the formidable La Téne Celts, the Volcae Tectosage (who invaded Macedonia and Anatolia). It also might be the origin of the word Gaul as v/w/g sounds shapeshift in Indo-European languages. European and Asia Minor place names that begin with the prefix gal-, gaul-, wal-, wel-, val- generally indicate a Celtic presence in the region.–MH
But we are speaking here of those "others," the Csángó-Hungarians…
I didn't find much iinformation in English, but I did find this link (and lovely slideshow) from National Geographic: "By their own account, they [the Csángó-Hungarians ] are the lineal heirs of Attila the Hun—a link to the nomadic ancestry of most residents of Europe, a window on the Asian origins of what we now think of as Western civilization." —Frank Viviano, 2005
The Csángós (phonetic: Changósh) are small island of Catholics in a sea of Orthodoxy, who've been persecuted for their language, folk customs, and religious beliefs. Yes, their story hold much in common with the Irish… Lest we forget, Romania was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire; post-Trianon Hungary had 72% less territory.

My further readings took most of the day, as I read up on the Dacians and Thracians and all the tribes that settled in the region. Fascinating stuff, but boggling to try and absorb the history of an entire region from time immemorial to time present in order to understand the focus my subject, the Csángó-Hungarians.

But I was also determined to find Gyula Adam on the internet so that I could use his photo to illustrate my poem. After many hours for fruitless searching, and emails sent into the blind corners of cyberspace, one Facebook link (where I found the photo online) Csángó Gyerekek wrote back:
Gyula Adam is a Hungarian photographer who lives in Csikszereda - Miercurea Ciuc, Romania. —Csángó Gyerekek
OK, so now I had a solid lead: a county of origin, a region, a city. Csángó Gyerekek also provided this email in translation. 
"Gyula Adam is one of the best photographers of Csángó-Hungarian peoples. This minority lives outside the historical Hungarian border (near the Carpathian Mountains, which includes the terrotory of Transylvania where some 1.5 million Hungarians live). But Csángó Hungarians are not originally from Hungary, they have a mystical origin—they probably didn't come from the Carpathian lowlands, but stopped there and stayed.  
   Csángó-Hungarians remain a very archaic and special culture, threatened by the Romanian government and by the Orthodox Church, who want to assimilate them—alas, with success, because in 1992 some 62 thousand Csángós spoke an archaic Hungarian language, now only 49 thousand speak their native language.
They live mostly in the region of Bacău. The 240 thousand Catholic people who live in Moldva (not the country of Moldova but the Romanian region of Moldva) are 95% Hungarian in origin, the rest are of German and Polish background. But 190 thousand already have lost their mother tongue because of violent assimilation. —Daniel Posch

I found a Flicker stream that might be Gyula Adam's work but I can't log into it to send an email. If you can log in, please drop him a note with this link. Here's hoping that someday I'll connect with Gyula Adam too to procure permission to officially use his his photo in this blog. And provide a link back to him. Meanwhile, this will have to do.

A special thanks to the Facebook site, Csángó Gyerekek (Csángó Gyerekek means Csángó Children), and to Andrew Fecskes, whom I met when we were children— in a friend's basement just as he stepped on a rusty nail that went right through his red sneaker and his foot—only to meet him again a lifetime later, on Facebook, of all places. That image, indelible in my memory.

Ekphrasis (Greek) means "to describe" or to "speak out”. Poets are sometimes inspired to describe another art form. Pick a painting or photograph that inspires you. Look deep inside the artwork for a few minutes. What do you feel, see, or question? Jot down: colors, symbols, images, memories. Use all your senses to create similes or metaphors. Then, give the art a sound or voice; enter the art and pretend you are a part of it. Or else, imagine that you are the artist, explore why and how you created the work. Shape your poem into lines, stanzas, or even a prose poem block. The Roman poet Horace once said that “poetry is a speaking picture” and “a picture is silent poetry". —From CPITS newsletter

  • FOR FURTHER READING—Some related Romanian and Hungarian blog posts of mine:

    Inexplicably, as I wrote this blog I kept thinking of someone I once corresponded with, Dr. Andrei Bantaş—who co-compiled the Romanian Dictionary—also an eminent translator and a Professor of English Literature at the University of Bucharest, Romania. I had no idea of his fame as I embarked blindly on my translating adventure. He would've liked today's sleuthing. Here's a review that he wrote about my translation work back in 1993.

    Some of my work:

    Budapest Nights
    Sultry Búdapest nights: as clichéd as it might sound, during the dog days of summer, 1992, I walked along a parapet of the fish market at sunset listening to the distant wild strains of someone playing gypsy violins.
    Sylva Tota
    A chance encounter with a stranger on a Vienna-bound Budapest train that I nearly missed— literally landed me in the lap of a rather irate Hungarian lady. She was disgruntled. I had nearly fallen off the moving train, I had enough adrenalin to lift an elephant so we got off to a rocky start.
    Ekphrastic poem: Flight of the Witches

    Ekphrastic poem: Pocahontas

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