Cold Peace: Off to Budapest


Heading off to Budapest for work.

I can only think of two things about Budapest now – my last trip there as long ago as 1999, wandering around and random old people asking me questions, which I naturally could not answer – nem beszélek magyarul. I don’t know Hungarian – clearly. Who does, other than Hungarians or people crazy enough to take on the daunting, crazy task of trying to learn this near-impossible language? I had a weird hankering to learn the language in my university years, but it was not offered anywhere near where I lived – it’s not one of those languages that everyone wants to learn, right?

Secondly, I think of Hungarian music and poetry. Of music, I think back to letters and tapes (yes, old cassette tapes!) exchanged with my former penfriend in Budapest, Szilvia. I fell in love with the music (Muzsikás and Marta Sebestyén). It put me into my own sort of world, wandering through Seattle and its suburbs listening to something that was so inaccessible and unknown to most of the people around me. I do distinctly recall, though, when I went to the cinema to see The English Patient, and from its very opening moments, the gorgeous song (Muzsikás’s rendering) “Szerelem, szerelem” played – I knew from the first moment I would love the film. Bias.

And poetry… I wish I could read it in the original, but as written above, only Hungarians and lunatics (not that they are comparable!) can deal with Hungarian.

After All – Anna Hajnal
After all, what have I become?
The island Iceland in a blind fog.
Gliding in the far north.
I swim in mushy ice-water.
An ice-barrier surrounds me,
To protect me?
Protect, from what?
What boils in me darkly,
bubbling, swirling upward,
melting my thick cover:
the firmament may blanche
while being sliced upward to its lap
by a foaming, vapor-tressed head
ragingly crying: the geyser.

Life Sentence – János Pilinszky
The bed shared.
The pillow not.

Cold Peace – György Petri
In the absence of peace, your plain man’s mind might think:
there will be war. There being no war,
your learnèd mind would believe:
this is now peace. But it is and will be neither.

On Hope – Sándor Petőfi
Man, what is hope? …a horrifying whore
Who doles to everyone the same embrace.
You waste on her your most precious possession:
Your youth, and then she leaves without a trace!

Logbook of a Lost Caravan – Gyula Illyés
Only the compass, keeping hope alive,
Stuttered on, uttering its paralyzed
Directions; with something somewhere beyond
To which to respond.

And for another long day
We struggled ahead through desert sand.

Then to the edge of stone cliffs
Covered with hieroglyphs.

Line after line, incoherent, they read –
Wrinkles on some mad forehead.

An ancient age
Struggled there in desperate tones –

With nothing more to say –
And only the wind moans.

Sand in our eyes. Between sweating fingers, and
Ground between teeth, sand.

We slaughtered the camel who knew the way…
Had our last meal today.

The Shapelessness – Ágnes Nemes Nagy
The shapelessness, the endlessness.
I almost fall before I cut away
My statement from the timelessness.
With sand I wall a bucketful of sea
Against a waste of nothingness.
Perpetual indifference should be
Intolerable to consciousness.

Agonia Christiania – János Pilinszky
The daybreak is still far away
With its rivers and blowing winds…
And I put on my shirt and suit
Buttoning up my death within.

The Dark Fates – Dezső Kosztolányi
The fatal sisters – death and cards and woman-
Stand sadly on life’s torturous road.
Inscrutable veiled destiny, what secret,
Meant for me, do your robes unfold?

Be you a witch, a fairy – never mind –
You’ll be my lover for a hundred nights.
I’ll find you in my Friday of misfortune,
To lay my worried forehead on your knee,

And pray to you for help, in exultation,
Pray for the word, the meaning, for the key.
My life is slow: enhance it, multiply it
With burning fevers, hotter still than hot!

So secret is this treasure-box – unlock it,
Make it let fall the hard, unyielding local!
Allow fast spinning then to every spindle,
Show, brilliantly transfigured, to my mind

Life – from the cradle to the coffin dwindle,
And, touching fate with fairy – gentle fingers,
Allow the thread of my slow life unwind.

Glassworks – Margit Mikes
The temperature is zero below
On the kitchen window the snow
Sticks in flower patterns;
Memory and fantasy together bring
The illusion of a white spring.
As I search for some matches,
A water glass shatters in the cold.
My breath catches.
What a painful shriek, a piercing sound:
A dangerous transformation of matter.
As I turn around
It clatters to the ground
And a cylinder of ice rolls out.
Before it was clear water, refreshing potion,
Now, in this temperature
It has become a miniature
Frozen ocean.

You transparent, dead glass
Our fate is the same.
Indifference engulfs us.
The tears that gushed
One my face freeze;
The pain numbs,
In the frozen vice of apathy
My heart is crushed.

The Rest is Grace – János Pilinszky
Fear and dreams
Were my father and mother –
The corridor was
My unfolding landscape.

This is how I lived. How will I die?
What will my destruction be like?

The earth betrays me. She hugs me close.
The rest is grace.