Peter Riley

Seven Transylvanian Songs


If you don't work
you won't hear the cuckoo

Or the water
or the wind whistling.

Do the work, saw the log, write the truth
and the cuckoo will sing in the tree

Respect and love the old people
in a world sense

All the work is good
that has good result

Sitting touching the cradle
in the winter.


When I was a young lad
I sang like a cuckoo and walked like a wolf.
Now we walk like cuckoos and sing like wolves

When I was a young man
there were violins everywhere, I sang and sang
sweetly the violin calms the heart
plays on and on, calmed heart listens

Violins and loved people steal our souls
loved person, violin, steal mind and soul.


My eyes laugh in your eyes.
My centre hurts for you.

I'm angry with your eyes
looking into mine.

I'm even angrier with your centre
teaching me love.

Whichever way the wind blows
it gets me.


My rose, think well of the beginning and the end,
with whom you will cover the world before your eyes.
For it is not borrowed bread which can be given back,
neither is it unearned money which can be spent,
nor is it a hot pillow which you can turn over.
You have found your life's partner, rose,
winter blossom, fallen bud.


(Dawn song)

I ask unspeaking earth,
silent totality, for help,
to mend the heart
(not heart) badly broken

And hurting, which is not the heart
but we say heart to describe the hurt.
The earth banging on my coffin lid
will silence all that.

And I'll be a star in the sky
shining faintly at the edge of the sky over the forest
and around midnight I'll poke around the houses
to see what my loves are up to.


Morning star shines
and I'm still out with the girls/lads
God what a disgrace
making my way home in the early morning.

Morning, here it comes.
I'm going home
and I'm taking my loves with me
we'll all walk home together.
I'm going home late
I'm going home at ten. Way!



Way way way way.
Home home home.

Don't cry.
I'll expect you for supper.



Transylvanian Songs
after Johannes Bobrowski

Father, the great raptor
flies into my chest and makes
his heraldry there.
Grandfather, the dogs bark
Great grandfather, the mud of the road.

And I, a visitor, without language,
sniffing the plum brandy
for me the pig is slaughtered in the yard. I
accept the gifts intended for Armenian merchants,
sleep under the ancestral tapestry,
follow tracks across the pastures, asking
where is the Jewish cemetery?

Run down the main street with my camera
through the gaze of the widows like
crows on the benches, to the edge of the forest
where the orphan bird sits. Then the song
makes sense: at the end of the road
you will shake hands with the thrush

and the Collectives Officer and the man
from Boston with the GMS tubes
all lusting for the black earth too late,
it has dried to a Saharan dust.

We walk in rings under the moon. The great
raptor signs our names in the sleep of trees.
Grandfather, across the pastures the river
pours through the stilled mill wheels.
Great grandfather, darkness fills the ground.



The seven songs are versions from sung texts in Hungarian or Romanian.
The Poem "Transylvanian Songs" follows roughly the course of events of the poem "Latvian Songs" by Johannes Bobrowski. The first sentence in italics is quoted from a Romanian funeral song, and concerns the journey out of this world.


© 2003 Electronic Poetry Review