Susan Aizenberg

Forced March
April 24, 2022 Aizenberg Susan

Forced March


What would I have to be to speak about him…

                                    —Adam Zagajewski


I remembered it wrong, the scene in the film

within the film about Radnóti—there were no young

lovers coming upon the killing in the woods.

It was an older man and a woman who might have

been his daughter. And the soldiers hustling

Radnóti and the other Jewish prisoners too weak

to work, and not dying fast enough, to dig

their own mass grave, then coolly shooting them

one by one, might have been their beloved sons

and grandsons. And I may have dreamed those listing

skeletons marched through postcard towns,

sunshine on rags, the apple-sellers, a blonde child

rolling a wheel with a stick past the starving men.

The wide-angled views of lush and lovely country—

Hungary, Yugoslavia, Germany. Those tracking shots

of green swells of pasture and innocent cows

grazing, peasants carrying their ancestral hatreds

along with the sparse grain and potato crops

in mule-drawn carts. Those close-ups of adolescent

soldiers grateful someone else is led away.

A cart man feeding fresh hay to his horses.

The autumn woods suffused with morning light.



Everywhere in Hungary there are statues of him—

in front of libraries, town halls. In the cover photo

of my new translation he’s cast in bronze.

Slender and tall, he leans against a wooden rail

in a sunlit park, his handsome profile tilted down,

as if he’s staring at his shoes, lines forming, perhaps,

in his mind. His poems were prophetic, writes one scholar,

his gift arising, she thinks, from his Jewish predisposition

to anticipate the worst.  In the camps, on the marches,

he wrote. In his filthy bunk, among the worms and lice.


            The poet writes, as dogs howl or cats mew.

            Or small fish coyly spawn. What else am I to do?



For the denouement, the director’s framed

the exhumation site: a row of pine coffins

lined up neatly as shipping crates,

on top of each a pile of rags, each man’s

things roughly displayed for whoever is left

to claim them. On Radnóti’s the famous raincoat,

hidden in the pockets, his photos and letters,

an exercise book of ten poems. Folded within

its pages, a flyer advertising cod liver oil,

Radnóti’s final lyric on the back. I can’t stop

thinking of how he’d written, five times,

in five languages— the French and English …

rather blurred and party illegible

on the book’s first leaf, the same message—


            Please, forward this booklet which contains the poems

            of the Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti  …

                        Thank you in anticipation.

Susan Aizenberg’s newest collection, A Walk with Frank O’Hara and Other Poems, is forthcoming this August in University of New Mexico Press’s Mary Burritt Christiansen Poetry Series. Recent poems appear or are forthcoming in Nine Mile, Pratik, ABQinPrint, Hole in the Head Review, SWWIM, On the SeawallNorth American Review, and elsewhere.