Translations from the Hungarian


Katalin Mezey


It took the family a week
to consume the bird.

Constantly, its meat popped up
in the form of a neck, a breast, a head.
Pieces of a wing appeared here and there
among the fried rice.

The meat was omnipresent
like a signal.

Though fragmented, it was
It constantly returned.
Mother and Father, the children
lost count. The mutilated wings, the drumsticks.
The fillet of this. The fillet of that.

They thought: is it possible
that so many parts
had once converged
into a whole?

The son was startled when he found a gill.
Suddenly they realized
it was better to change
the subject.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Katalin Mezey

In Homage of Our Deceased Japanese Rooster

For my daughter Kati

Don’t abandon your loved one in the backyard.
He’s exposed, and runs a risk
here where the cat lies concealed.
Have you seen the shadow that haunts the yard?

How often do I leave you unprotected,
guarded only by a feeble latch.
You wait in wild anguish—
a cat’s shadow imprinted on your pupils.

I’ve just arrived, dragging my take-home work.
I brought money and food. The routine of my life
is that I go, and come back. I’m still terrified
until you start pecking at the muck on my shoe.

Most things are a succession of chance-
a vicious moment can snuff good fortune out.
The one who snoozed in the calm yard before
just screamed in the vice of the cat’s claws.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Imre Oravecz

Graves of Soldiers

They were there ever since I can remember.
They lay in neat rows in our vegetable garden
among the potato plants next to the cemetery.

They formed a narrow, elongated island.
Our tilling of the soil almost reached them.

The graves were short and small.
I thought that children
were buried beneath the mounds.

They didn’t give us much trouble;
we simply avoided them
and were glad that there was less to hoe.
Only in the spring did they get in the way.
Then we had to take heed
not to plough the ground above them.
Even the horse had to step aside.

In the summer, we trimmed the grass
on all sides of the graves. But we didn’t offer
the green to the cows. We threw it away instead.
Once a year on Memorial Day
we pulled up all the weeds
and tied them in bundles around the gravesites.
We lit a candle for each soldier
as if they were relatives.
Actually, there was only one candle—
because wax wasn’t cheap.
At times I tried to imagine these soldiers as blood-thirsty savages—
when I was under the influence of Soviet films.
But I really couldn’t.
I couldn’t hold a grudge against these Germans
because I remembered Miklos, my friend,
whose father never returned from a Soviet POW camp.
He was probably buried somewhere in Russia.
Then, through the years, these graves sunk
deeper and deeper into the soil.
They decayed along with their alien names.
The wooden crosses rotted.

And I began to mix up the names of all these friends:
Kurt with Hans, Hermann with Jürgan.
Otto with Reiner. I slowly forgot
who was who. When he was born.
His age when he was killed.
We paid less and less attention.
We became aware we couldn’t tend to them
forever and ever.
We couldn’t halt disintegration.

Now and then we were so inattentive
we stepped on the mounds
or sat on top.
Yet, we still kept an eye.

When — in 1956 — we turned the vegetable garden
into a building site
the graves still existed.
But — when the site was added to the cemetery,
and, so to speak, the soldiers began to occupy
their rightful place —
the graves were mercilessly rooted up
and flattened. A new building for the holding wakes was erected.
They also needed open ground in front.
This is where the soldiers were sleeping their new dreams.

The graves are unmarked now,
yet the bodies are not abandoned.
They were just given several fresh partners in fate.
A whole village of dead civilians moved in with them.
So now the place is cramped.
So crowded that the cemetery
still needed to be enlarged.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


György Faludy

You Become More and More Waxen

You become more and more waxen, exhausted
when it is morning. When I comb your hair,
it breaks off.
Your arm is a withered vine.
The cocoons of cancer protrude from your neck.
Blue sky in front of your window.
The stone wall has no compassion.

Today you don’t feel pain. I perch
by your bed and cradle a coffee mug.
In place of your hard breasts, green sutures,
purple scars. I’m lost in reverie.
You don’t have to leave. May I be
next to you for another half-year?

Love, my 70-pound ghost,
what shall I say? I kneel in the light
because your pastel-gray eyes are still lovely.
Your wrecked body has life.
It is good this way.
And it will never get better.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Elemer Horvath


Now that the last patch of snow has left us
the forest has begun to knead the mud.
The willow is narcissistically green-eyed.
The daffodil is sightless.
The statue lives forever inside rock.
Censorship is silent in the brook.
Only man is capable
of rattling his chains
before he sheds his coat.
He ponders the meaning of pneumonia
and how the earth can exist
for those who have never been in exile.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Katalin Mezey

Mother Always Knows Something New

Mother always knows something new;
something clandestine about the weather
because she’s fluent in the language of plants.
Now she thinks there will be a long, warm autumn:
she learned this from the blooming, wild chestnuts.
They flower for the second time among rows of trees.
If I’d spend eighty years on this earth
would these plants enter into a conversation
with me? These plants that to spite winter
unfurl their coded messages of time.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Otto Tolnai

The Small Bicycle

A small bicycle rolls away
Succulent mulberries drop
out of the mesh bag
on its handlebars
Somebody let out
the air from its sturdy tires
Its bell rings
on every corner
Somebody placed in its mesh bag
the still warm newspaper
the raw meat
The small bicycle rolls
Nobody is manning it

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban)


Otto Tolnai

This Is Not Death Yet

I’m skinning a rabbit on the porch
houses like toy blocks     I’m daydreaming
a gun shot     the rabbit jumps up
this is not death yet
between my legs a road with trees
we embrace each other on the razor sharp hook
this rabbit’s a true athlete—
small ass, wide shoulders—
his tongue a dirty rose petal
in my mouth
and I throw up inside him
the gun cracks and he jumps up
this is not death yet
it’s good to find refuge in a skinned rodent
inside a still warm comrade
during a battle on the Eastern Front
a skinned body is not dead yet
round and round in a naked dance
the silk of a jet plane’s tail
sews you up like a needle
the straw stitched back inside a leather bag
it’s not death yet
only the delicate taste of game
only the delicate taste

(Translated from the Hungarian by Nicholas Kolumban, Daniel Bourne and Karen Kovacik)