7th July 2022


3 minutes read

Gyula Jenei

Passageways to God

translated by Diana Senechal

7th July 2022

3 minutes read

there will be my mother’s church, my father’s too,

my grandmother’s. i am christened in the first of these,

the catholic one, where i must go for bible school and mass. but

my father’s line is protestant,

and my grandmother often

derides my mother’s family as papist. and thus me too. grandmother

does not like papists. it hurts that at such times she does not

like me either. of course it’s my mother’s family, first and foremost,

that she dislikes. strictly speaking this is not dislike, but rather

contempt. the artisan’s wife looks down on peasants and extends

her prejudice to religion. in practice it looks as if she views

catholics as a stupid, naive rabble who worship icons. capable

of eating rabbits, for instance. and a rabbit’s flesh is the same

as a cat’s. she says this because my mother’s family

raises rabbits. of course, how and from what source could

my poor grandmother know what cat meat is like? still,

my entire life long, she discourages me from eating rabbits.

now and then my mother and i go to the catholic church, and

my father sometimes joins us. but rarely do my father and i

go to the protestant church, which my mother never attends.

even my father goes just twice a year, at new year’s and easter.

but not always on new years. since it shaves away the time.

i don’t know whether he skips services on purpose.

or whether he believes in god. but if he does, i somehow

don’t believe it. the catholic church is not small and

not big. quite average. it will have a church smell. or else

a smell of old women. i sit at mass and try to put together

the story of the man with the crown of thorns. i keep looking

at the colored windows, not the saints painted on them, just

the play of colors, the way the glass lets the light through. if

there is a heaven after all, this could be the entry to some

other world. the protestant church will be different. two-towered,

with two lofts. white room, vast walls. once, by way of the spiral

staircase covered with pigeon droppings, my father takes me up

to a tower. we step out to the fire-watch balcony, in front

of the towers, to the narrow plank, but i don’t dare lean against

the thin iron railings, i don’t dare rest my elbows on them,

since i fear that they will come loose from the wall. we

will be thirty meters above the city. in horror i take in

the cluster of houses, the streets’ geometry, people bicycling

on the highways into space, to be absorbed somewhere

as dots in the bluish regions of the color field. i see

what god more or less might see as well. and what i don’t see, that

is only because it is inside the houses, or shielded by trees, rows

of acacia.

i am afraid of the depths but cannot get my fill of the view.

later it occurs to me that god must be equally anxious when

he looks down at the earth.


 First published in Gyula Jenei’s poetry collection Always Different: Poems of Memory, translated by Diana Senechal (Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2022).

written by

Gyula Jenei

More about the author

translated by

Diana Senechal

More about the translator


Passageways to God by Gyula Jenei
Religious attitudes, architecture, and adventure combine in a boy’s life, in a poem by the Hungarian poet Gyula Jenei, translated by Diana Senechal.
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