Click on the cover to open the page at CD Baby.
George Pereny is the real shit, says Jim Klein in his intro to George’s From the Sounds of Chewing. That may seem a strange way introduce FROM THE SOUNDS OF CHEWING, but I have my reasons. First, I’ve known George ever since the fall of 1972 when I started teaching English at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, and George was doing grad work there. George’s voice is as clear and pure as George is. He’s had the experience all right, but his voice is natural and innocent. Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, George actually combines both. The apparent effortlessness of his work even gets me thinking back to the Aeolian harp, the Romantic image of inspiration caused by the wind blowing through the mountains. George has distilled the complexities of who he is, and was, and yearns to be into the verse testimony you have in your hand.
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My mother’s family, my godfather, and my confirmation sponsor, were all from a small Hungarian town called Gyongyos in Heves(mountainous) County an hour north of Budapest at the feet of the Matra Mountains on the northern end of the Great Hungarian Plain. In 1944, there were 22,000 people living in Gyongyos, including about 2500 Jews, most of whom, like my mother’s family, perished. A handful, including my mother, survived. This is their story.
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George Pereny’s great new book is a mixture of memory, history and poetry, telling the story of a remarkable life that started under the repression of Soviet rule in his native Hungary. His family made a brave and dangerous escape from Hungary when Pereny was a boy, crossing the ocean and coming to the United States after a momentous decision to take the bus for America rather than the bus for Canada. Pereny had an adventurous education in America, coming to love rock music and words, eventually deciding on a teaching career that took him to inner-city neighborhoods and kids in desperate need of his poetry and vision. Along the way he discovered an aptitude and passion for the martial arts and had a spiritual rebirth in Christ. George’s story is also a quest for love that brings him to many women until he finds the right one. Like many great books, THE BUS FOR AMERICA ends with a wedding and a new chance for a happy life in Pereny’s adopted America.
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I had to have the water
engulf me in her tender cream.
In the water
everything is changed:
you feel the green
as you gaze up into blue
and the slice of evening moon
like a piece of silver cloud
so neatly splintered.
the structures and the buildings on the coast–
all man’s marvels look so futile from the wave.
from The Sounds of Chewing, copyright 2014, George Pereny
“Ocean” from Lou Leo Sings the Electric Poet, copyright George Pereny/Lou Leo, 2000,
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TRAVELS TO BUDAPEST
Some time ago, a few years past, circa 2011, some Catholic friends and I were gathered outside
St. Anthony’s Church in Butler, New Jersey, after holy morning Mass.
“Hey George, you ever think about going to Medugorje?” they asked me.
“Naw, never,” was my quick reply.
The next day, before adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Valley in Wayne, New Jersey, I stood before Our Lady’s statue seeking her intercession, when suddenly I was overwhelmed with intimations of going to Medugorje. I was stunned and perplexed.
The next day at confession with my spiritual advisor Father Jim, I told him about the incident, inquiring why I was being summoned to Medugorje. Father Jim thought a little and responded: “to talk to somebody.”
I didn’t think much about it until soon afterwards, when I learned that my friend’s son in Croatia had committed suicide. So I resolved to go.
O Blessed Mary
mother of our Savior
I heard your voice summon me to Medurgoje.
I asked your priest in confidence, in Confession, why?
“To talk to someone”
was his reply.
About a week later I learned
my friend’s twenty year old son
had been a recent suicide in Croatia.
So here I sit, Mother’s Day in May
on a jet to Hamburg, then on to Budapest
by train to Zagreb
by car to Medugorje the following day. 5/11/14
I chose May– Mary’s month–to go. As the time approached and I realized that I was actually going, my sweet wife Marianne became indispensible with preparations for the trip. She was so understanding, even though my reasons and methodology were specious to her, she supported and helped me one hundred percent.
I was a scoundrel, player, sleazy jerk–
But Your grace and mercy saved me
And I repented finally, couldn’t stand the darkness anymore
By thirty-five still alone and lonely
Fearing always being so–
But Your golden mercy stayed your sterling justice
And I met her, Marianne
manifestation of your mercy
virgin wife, the best for me
married now so happily, twenty-nine years and counting. 5/11/14
CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH
OUR ONLY HOPE
As I travel this hard mean world
all people wear the yoke of sin
imposed upon them by the evil one–
a general decline of ethics and morals
the breakdown of family
kids without control/direction
greed squeezing the working man–
So eat my flesh Lord!
drink my blood!
I want to fight
help make it right
help lift this fetid stinking burden
off the necks of my fellow men.
As soon as I got off the jet from Hamburg and into a Budapest cab from the airport to the hotel, the cabbie’s tale began to pull at the strings of my heart.
“A man works seven days a week here and it’s not enough,” said the cabbie as he drove, and we exchanged our lives’ stories.
“Everything’s expensive and keeps going up, except my salary. Yet the ones in power, the lying politicians, are rolling in dough! And they keep blabbing about how much better things are under their reign, but it simply isn’t true! Democracy they call it! Horseshit! It’s the same guys who were in power under the communists; they just changed hats and have stolen all the money. ”
I’ve heard this before about my native land, and inwardly thank my Dad for the guts to have escaped the Russian tyranny of 1956, at forty, with a wife and two young kids, aged eight and five. There would not have been a successful retired American citizen with a great pension and savings returning home, money in his pockets to a miserable deformed land.
TO A STREET ARTIST:
How foolish to attribute anything other than its beauty and utility, negating any bearing of class or state to its maker, yet that’s the way of the world, the way of evil. Filthy lousy lucre, you’ve got so many fooled, so many deceived by your lies and your deceptions. Yet you’re hollow, creator of hollow men, men devoid of honor, hollow, heartless, shrewd, looking for any advantage.
Is the value of a man a number on a stock market blip, or the good he’s lived by? Desire and honest hard work are commendable every here, but without the grace of humility, they can become empty drums beating out an obnoxious noise.5/12/14/ Budapest
LEANING TOWARDS SOCIALISM
A natural impulse from the heart
A surplus of wealth is obscene
especially flaunted before the poor–
Yet who can deny success to those who worked their talents hard?
But communism, as we have seen, does not work
and socialism, in many places, works no better.
as prescribed to us
by Our Precious Lord.
During the Russian occupation and regime, you saw no people living on the streets. No cripple fell out of his wheelchair at the railroad station, sleeping on the cold concrete till a passerby lifted him into his chair again. And that’s exactly what I saw.
IMAGINE A N ATION
Imagine a nation in all of creation
a nation who follows the Lord.
Imagine the blessings
as that nation’s success unfolds–
A nation who follows the Lord!
A nation fulfilled by our holy and loving, Lord.
PROUD FLAG WAVING IN THE WIND
Not so in my motherland, everybody’s mad, complaining that the ones in power have the money while the working man is squeezed. It’s like the communist just changed hats, now they’re the dominant democratic thieves.
It is the sixth visit back to the land of my birth, I’m thinking as I watch the huge majestic flag of Hungary wave proudly in the wind on a cold May day on Castle Hill in Budapest. Yet I am not proud of you my motherland.
In speaking to artists, teachers, cabbies, I’m told it’s a hard life pressed upon the people by the politically slick and rich, with four million living beneath the poverty level, in a land of approximately nine million, the politically elite rich and fat, a return to blind nationalism and its evils.
The blood of my Jewish ancestors flows at my feet as I walk the beautiful Buda streets of Castle Hill. Beautifully crafted architecture, views of the spectacular Danube, the Parliament where in 1992 Dad told me he saw Nazis shooting Jews and throwing the bodies into the river during WWII. And the rise of such hatred again! Motherland! Are you insane!?
Teachers and doctors unable to live on their pensions, and the nation longs for pre-world war status and the respect it once had. But what O motherland have you to offer?
Do something for the Lord
get it back seven fold–
This world is satan’s
but “fear not!
I have overcome the world.”
O old country O motherland!
What ancient blood stains your majestic streets?
Bloodshed through the ages:
Romans, Magyars, Mongols, Turks,
wretched Nazis and the slaughter of my mother’s family, Russians–
O ! I could hate you motherland!
And the wild side of me does though kept at bay–
but then the news of a rising nationalism…
racism on the rise–
and my anger flares
and I’m ashamed of you again.
Some water had gathered
in the corner of a square
on the landing of some steps
outside the great museum hall
up on regal Castle Hill
Two three or four year-olds
wearing cozy red water boots
made a game of running through the water
making their beautiful young mother
with the golden hair
and sacred glow of motherhood
laugh and laugh—
MEAN AND ANGRY
You are a mean and angry people my countrymen!
I hate to say it but many times so true.
A product of what was done to you
and still oppressed with the shame of a rising anti-Semitism!
My God my country!
You demand respect from the EU.
citing past glories
but what do you bring to the table today?
Your pride, your demands, your racism–
O my country!
O stunted motherland!
THE ONLY HOPE
The rich are squeezing the life out of the middle class and crushing the poor. O land of notorious decline. Whether Hungary, Croatia, America–the basic dismal sum is the same: negative. There is only one way out; He said it:
I am the Way
HARD AND MEAN
Motherland Magyarorzag: you are a nation of angry, impatient, depressed people, stunted by your own lack of ethics and morality. Too many of you are hard and mean, devoid of joy, constantly oppressed by a succession of corrupt, parasitic leaders, sucking the substance out of your nation. And once again, as if the horrors of history could not teach you, you seek a scapegoat, and once again seize upon the Jews! A nation has a collective Karma; things trickle down, what goes around comes around–have you forgotten?
You’ve made some bad mistakes in the past, now mark the road you’re on again!
5:30a and I’m in the Southern Budapest Railroad Station, with suitcase, knapsack, and Miro’s gift–a $300 electric guitar I’ve brought from America. There’s also a Metro(subway) stop, and the slightly ominous atmosphere with various shady and low-class people milling around–reminiscent of NYC without Blacks and Hispanics. Lots of homeless people, like a guy sleeping face down on the cold concrete floor, near him an empty wheelchair.
It’s a raw, cold,, storm-impending day in early May, 2014. My trains for Zagreb is scheduled to leave 6:05, and I decide to get a cup of coffee and a cookie breakfast snack. As I wait for the coffee I notice someone has put the man back in his wheelchair, which it occurred for me to attempt on some distant level. He rolls by me voicing gibberish I can’t understand, and I place my cookie snack in his hand and walk away with my coffee.
I board the train into a first-class compartment and find out from an apathetic conductor there’ is no food or drinks of any kind on the train, all the way(7 hours) to Zagreb. Having had nothing to eat except t he little bit of my cookie snack, and some coffee, I’m wondering how I’ll survive the seven hours to
Zagreb. But I meet a kind man from San Antonio, Texas, retired math teacher, free-travelling for years wherever he feels, never taking pictures, sometimes taking trains arbitrarily on impulse. And he feeds me a peanut butter breakfast bar.
Two hours out of Budapest the train refuses to pull out of a small country station. For around an hour we just sit around, knowing nothing. Finally I hear the conductor say: tree across the tracks: no power, should be fixed in about a half hour. After about ninety minutes they announce there’s no power anywhere, and they’re going to put us on buses and drive us south to the Croatian border.
The bus is an old model with no bathroom and a decayed interior. We are told to take any seat and wait another half hour before departing. Finally we take off and ride the back roads of Southern Hungary for hours, intermittently stopping at railroad stations to see if the power’s been restored.
Finally at one station they let us go to the bathroom and get some sandwiches , a twenty minute stop. Then nearby at another small country station they put us into another two railroad cars, in preparation to take us across the Croat border. And then arrive the border police, both Hungarian and Croatian, both demanding to see passports.
Some of the cops are intimidating and mean, while most are congenial and friendly. One cute one, a Hungarian, likes the way I said thank you very much in Hungarian and checks me out thoroughly. She’s got a pretty face, shiny black hair, and I reciprocate.
We finally get to Zagreb, about three hours late and I wait for my friend Miro whom I haven’t seen in twenty-four years. Miro, who with wife Vesna came to America via travel visa in1990, had a son named Luka, and were attempting to stay if Miro could get some work. It was a struggle, but when war broke out in the Balkans, Miro couldn’t stay, impelled to go back to Croatia and fight the Serbs. He became a Special Forces Commander, and as soon as I saw his face waving at me from his Citroen 4 wagon, I was struck by the lines of hard experience cut into his face, and how he had changed.
We went to a club and had a few sodas; then we went to a butcher for some bones for Yanko, Miro’s Belgian Shepherd. Several times Miro was met by friends on the street, identifying them as men from his ‘unit.’ Whatever role Miro had played in the war, it appeared to have been no small one.
Finally we get to Miro’s forest cabin, beautifully situated in the forest outside Karlovac, and exquisitely built by Miro and some plumbers and electricians, completely self-sufficient with solar panels for electricity, and plenty of firewood for heat.
Vesna prepared some type of meat-sauce feast, and Miro brought out two bottles of homemade moonshine made on their two stills. Delicious! I was feeling pretty good! The weather had been horrible; there were terrible floods in Serbia, so we decided to get up early and see if we could attempt the six hour drive south to Medugorje. And we went to bed.
We got up around three and left at 3:30. It was raining but cleared as we headed south on Croatia’s beautiful highways, with some of the most impressive and lengthy tunnels in the world. By nine, the weather had turned pleasant, and we were in Medugorje.
My initial impression of the place was its commerciality, many shops selling rosaries and other Catholic mementos. Then we tried to enter a basement of a church filled with Koreans, where we were subsequently told this was a Korean mass and that we weren’t welcome.
“Mass only Koreans,” mocked Miro. “How ’bout I punch you in face! “See George, this why I sometimes hate the Church!”
There was a huge stage with a white statue of the Blessed Virgin and rows of chairs before it. Several people had begun praying in front of the stage, so I decided I’d go and do likewise while Miro went to call a friend of his who was a tour guide here.
After I prayed before the statue for about twenty minutes, I saw that Mrio had returned and approached him.
“Spoke to my old friend Anka, a tour guide here, Miro said.
“Glad to hear it; where are we going?
“She wants us to climb Apparition Hill; she’s taking a group up now.”
“Awe let’s go back to Karlovac,” I complained. “This place is just a commercial trap! There’s a store on every corner.”
“Now come on Gyuri; you came all the way from America; let’s do what Anka says. She wants to meet you.”
So now with the sun hot and the sky clear, the weather humid and sticky, we began the steep climb of apparition hill. About an hour’s hard climb littered with jagged rocks, where many pilgrims remove their shoes. Exactly what Miro did, but my shoes stayed on! And I attempted to follow this mountain goat friend of mine up the mountain.
It was a struggle for me even though I’m in pretty good shape, though burdened with Parkinson’s.
“Hold on to me,” Miro kept insisting as we climbed, but I was definitely too proud for that! So Miro shot ahead and I struggled forward, wishing I had taken a stick like many people had done down below.
The climb was accentuated with Christ’s Stations of the Cross, and after number seven, I was starting to get tired. I knew I needed a stick, but Bosnia’s topography is desert-like, and there were no sticks available. But finally, in the good Lord’s provision, I found not one, but two sticks to aid me in my ascent.
It was an amazing procession of people praying their hearts out in various languages, extremely infectious and I exploded in prayer, not ceasing till at the bottom of the hill about an hour and a half later. I fell a couple times climbing up but did not get hurt. Finally I reached the top, where there was a large white cross surrounded by scaffolding reachable by stairs. We all went up and touched/kissed the cross. Some people fell to their knees in ecstatic prayer while others took pictures and enjoyed the incredible view of the valley below.
I spotted Miro speaking to a woman and a group of English pilgrims. As soon as Miro saw me he introduced me to his old friend Anka, group leader at Apparition Hill, a middle-aged Croatian woman ablaze with the Spirit the Lord. When I told her the reason I came, she was amazed, and attributed the miracle of Miro’s pilgrimage to my visit.
“Do you realize George how long I’ve pleaded with MIro to come here; see what happens when you heed the Blessed Mother’s call! You should be proud!”
We took some pictures before the large white cross and then began to descend the mountain. Miro insisted that I hold on to him but I emphatically refused. I had my two little sticks and I trusted they’d suffice. But Anka knew better and insisted I take her substantial stick for my descent. I did what she said and floated down the mountain. Even though I slipped a few times, I assured everyone I was a Kung Fu man and that the Lord was my strength. People were praying just as fervently on the descent, and Anka and I began saying the Chaplet of Mercy.
Anka then took us to a restaurant for dinner; there she began explaining the entire history and political ramifications of the apparitions; I tried to follow her but the only things I could understand were that Mary chose Bosnia for her visits because of the fervent faith and devotion of the Croat Roman Catholic Church, and for Muslim inclusion in God’s plan for peace. Anka was so on fire as she explained things to me, at one point she demanded that the bartender turn down the volume of the music in the bar so she could be better heard. Without the slightest hesitation, the bartender complied. She then urged us to finish our food because she was taking us to a Divine Mercy Chapel in a neighboring town where an English Benedictine priest was going to say Mass.
We drove on perilous mountain roads suitable for one-way traffic. When an oncoming car approached, a contest of nerve determined who proceeded first. We drove that way snaking down a steep mountain where one mistake could end in tragedy. It must be a common thing in Croatia, because Miro was nonplused and navigated the Citron with confidence and skillful ease around some dangerous sharp curves without protective side guards . Finally, we were at the bottom and still in one piece.
We were down in what seemed like a river valley without a river. There was a chapel with a crowd of people by the front and small residential homes on either side. Some women were selling rosaries and other souvenirs . It was so crowded that Miro had to park the Citron a few homes down.
We entered the chapel and it was packed. Led by the English priest, the entire church was reciting the Chaplet of Mercy before the Mass. Having often said the Chaplet of Mercy in American churches, I have never heard it said with such fervor and faith. It was astounding! The entire chapel boomed and rang with the voices of a dynamic congregation in a mighty unison of faith. Very inspiring.
I received the Eucharist after not having it for a week of travel, and I was grateful. Since the chapel was dedicated to The Divine Mercy, there was a relic of St. Faustina which we were invited to kiss after Mass.
After wards we were invited to the house Miro had parked in front of. Anka introduced me and with old-world honor proudly informed me that the mother I was meeting had produced a Carmelite priest. They had a table set up on their front porch and offered us some home-made moonshine similar to what I drank the night before at Miro’s cabin. I had a bit but Miro declined knowing he had a six hour drive back to Karlovac. By the time we left, it was about four o’clock.
After being on the road a while, it began to rain. Miro kept up his steady pace of 130 kilometers per hour(about 80mph) in the pouring rain and sometimes exceeded to 145 which really got on my nerves.
Even in the dark Miro sped on; I was so tense I couldn’t nap and began getting on his nerves too by implying that he slow down.
We finally got back to the cabin in Karlovac about eleven, exhausted. I could tell Miro was not convinced about anything and Vesna greeted me by asking sarcastically:
“Well, do you feel different; are you healed?”
“Well yeah,” was all I could say, and went to bed dejected, like I had come all this way and had accomplished nothing.
As tired and drained as I was I was up at four thirty in the am and got my things together, washed myself, and prayed. I then began feeling better, that somehow there was a purpose in my pilgrimage
and all had not been in vain regarding Miro. This was verified as soon as Miro was up and we had coffee and began talking. He said he had found peace and that it was the first time he had faced and prayed about his son Luka’s suicide.
Miro drove me to Zagreb and naturally the train was late. We laughed about it and went out to get some coffee at a bar. I was great seeing that our journey to Medugorje had some positive effects on Miro. As for myself, I didn’t witness any miracles; I wasn’t healed of Parkinson’s, and can’t say for sure if the whole thing is legitimate. What I can say without any trace of doubt is that without the Church of Christ and her teachings, this world is lost. And that if the Blessed Mother hasn’t appeared at Medugorje, she will come down due to the tremendous fervor of faith displayed there by faithful pilgrims since 1981.