:: Article

Five Poems

By Ágnes Lehóczky.

babel 14

notes between Budapest and Babel

Kelenföld: a word with a marginal etymology,
a land to cross? perhaps, each meter or inch we
make, a conquest of a land to construct barriers
of a language, but call it like that for the
security in the naming… in a suburban train
station of the eleventh district in a loose
embrace of tower blocks at the final sigh of
tram 49 after the last semi circular bend, a
stuttering manifesto of once elegant utterances
regurgitating to a rectangular square with tiny
shops like sheds, pig sties, wooden or plastic
boxes that function as beer bars, fruit or food
stalls selling frankfurter sausages and other
specialities I cannot define in this language, at
a cheap spirit bar a dog tied to a lamp post
waiting for the intoxicated owner while staring
each other out both wishing to swap to be…
near the ticket office a peeling yellow building
decorated with pigeon lofts all around, still
grey atlases scaffolding a weak structure like
solitary subjects in elliptical sentences such as:
WC a Posta mögött ↑ ­the sign says on
cardboard and I find the toilet behind the post
office, wondering if it is really there or if the
construction is self-made, scratched with
graffiti perhaps by the cat in the foreground
munching cold meat from a bowl while two
men inside are counting coins nodding at me
that I may go in accepting the 50 forint coin, no
paper but I wasn’t expecting any…

the concrete is red like the soil on the border
dividing Wales and England thrown away beer
cans between the rails cigarette packets and
plastic bottles corroded, narrow streams
meandering in between footsteps on the floor
and I wonder if it is urine, if we are in Ghana
and start counting the endless number of cargo
wagons painted rusty red too narrowing down
into a dot, into the possibility of a full stop at
the end of the infinite, empty, carrying nothing,
yet they seem to be very heavy…

I answer a misdialled call and a female voice
sends me back to my mother’s cunt, I put the
phone down blushing and ashamed looking
around to see if anyone could hear it and wait
for the train… that journeys through a 100 km
short distance for nearly 3 hours in the peak of
the ignited summer with a few carriages packed
with dogs, teenagers, old people and I wonder
how many breaths can be taken sentences
uttered within 180 minutes times the number of
passengers on the train and remember my
friends’ reminder that I will smell of train after
the journey and indeed, train smell does exist:
an amalgam of people’s body smell and breath
smell and dogs’ smell and cigarette smell and
the smell of rust and iron that creep on the
tongue and up in the palate, yes, iron, the most
dominant of all turning into an acidic smell of
sentences and magnetic conversations of anger
and passion… I want to smell like that too…

last night I saw her after ten years, where
exactly was the last time I saw you?, perhaps in
the metro for a few seconds but we only waved
then from separate carriages, blurred
reflections mirages of our selves… now we talk
of politics and she wants to sit right next to me
in the bar not opposite and feel proud that we
were both born in 76, special babies, special
generation, fragile but gifted if only someone
realised, ready to burst into tears both at
weddings and funerals, I know, I knew it yes…

and she laughs hysterically and I notice she
stutters and cannot express herself and
remember D. who stated long ago that we do
not own our mother tongue… and I start
stuttering too and laughing neurotically myself
and our stammering turns into a bitter whimper
around midnight at the last table of the last bar
with the last drink… and we skip the children’s
church group again and sink into underground
labyrinths of the ‘80s, we are in Banana
Republic, do you know what it means? to sell
your life for a plate of lentils? we say and I
wonder why that woman cursed at me on the
phone when she made the mistake perhaps that
is the reason, when I see you again, bring
poems and we will read them out loud, you ask
when the taxi stops at 2 am and I go to bed
straight away, into the one where father
thought of death the day before he died…

the train that inaudibly rolls into the copper-
coloured station, not only perfectly quiet but
brand new… and I start mourning for the lost
romanticism of poverty I wanted to indulge in,
to surrender to the smell of rust, to these
metallic syllables of despair and venom and
instead this train is newly refurbished and two
well-dressed elderly ladies talk quietly without
any intense gestures…

at least your mother showed some passion last
night in her night gown before we dived into
the gaudy night-life on the Pest side…we
should feel lucky she says that we had parents
like her as our words are strongly built towers
and we mean what we say and I notice she
stutters too and weeps when she remembers the
church where we used to assist the priest
giggling under an overhanging gown of an
angelic hangman during the offertory and so
we leave your mother in eternal euphoria and
sadness… do not worry you say her wrinkles
smooth out when uncle Gyuri visits her twice a
month for a few hours each time

… and I watch the oxidized station go by
slowly dozing to the sound of the fine talk in a
cradle of soft sentences…through the window I
spot two storks over the lake, two forgotten
orthographic signs I could not read anymore
written in the reeds wings open… and I notice
another one and two or three more; the entire
country covered with copper-beaked white


Nárcisz’s breakfast letter

I will simply tell you what I can see on this table, here. No, not
on that table but on the one that floats. In the window. The one
that moves with the hour. Its lustrous objects, some of them
latent, some obvious, layer by layer half-sheltered behind each
other like a mock-up of some insipid geology, travel by the
horizon. I will tell you. Although it’s not easy to stop. Seeing
inside. A crooked vase. Bursting flowers. They burst on the
glass. I do not know what sort but not sunflowers and the vase is
not blue of any kind. I could ask someone and if they did not
know they could ask someone and if they did not know. Apples
piled on top of each other buoyant in a bowl relatively visible:
curvaceous torsos, perpendicularly squashing against one
another with a negligible force unit of kilo Pascal. Though,
weight nullifies for those who only watch. Did you know that
despite the apparent struggle, these apples strive for
equalization? They say. A kitchen knife tilted on its side. Its
glossy metal edge reflects another ceiling, another sky, blurs it,
blurs its white. The texture of air woven between the metal and
the white escapes and floods the room. The razor’s edge facing
down the surface of the table reflects unknown darkness, a
darkness duplicate. The intimate recollections of the two. A
chunk of butter. Left outside sunbathing in the light yellow light
of early afternoon melting into its own outline. Then the butter
expands and steps out of itself. It becomes smeared on the glass.
I read that objects have no contours, only oscillating transitions.
I don’t know if it is true. Perhaps the replica of it is true. An
eggshell in a gaudy eggcup, its top torn off with a zigzagged
motion. A mineralized minuscule skull, drained, after an
elongated tribal ritual. But this time no religion, no ideology. An
embroidered egg cap, a Sunday outfit. Still warm from
incubating the freshly boiled egg. If you were here you would
slip into the needlework’s inner textile and reel up the story of
the thread stitched vice versa. If it wasn’t too late. Look, these
objects are travellers. Wait. Only a few more things here. A light
green net bag; it is more pistachio. A fishnet fishless. Or a
marionette collapsed after the hand dropped it. Yet it seems it
wakes again, stretches with the stretching of the sun. It all
changes by the second. Let’s hurry up. It’s not easy to erect a
world. Outside. A jam jar with lumps of marmalade. Left open.
The lid is chequered; red and white, red and white. This pattern
restricted to the circle of the rim continues outside the rim too, it
brims over it, inaudibly. But this would be a detour and we must
stay, we must stay here, with a facsimile table that’ll soon
depart. The table that is still here…

(From Budapest to Babel: 2 poems)



The Album of Edessa

Tell me about those faces. One by one. Wipe the mascara off
the skin and concentrate only on the mask. Each mask has its
own landscape. Each a rock face. Move your hand over cliffs
and chasms so you nearly touch them. The layers amassed
from years’ tailoring and colouring one’s own map. Over and
over. Digging out one’s own riverbeds and numerous cul-de-
sacs. And then departing with no answer, discarding keys and
forgetting old addresses and street signs. Lean over these
chasms. Their pearl eyes. Their oval emptiness. You sketch
their outlines in a crucial moment. Like a river. You. The
bridge. Witnessing whirlpools of contours. Just before they’re
slurred. But, you say, they’re slurred with a fragment of a
flash. Rivers dry up quickly in this landscape. Yes, imagine a
shroud sepia yellow in colour, enveloping these masks. So
attached that the fabric becomes skin. Texture. Grains of
sand. Just in between arrival and departure. Now. Photograph
them a million times before you forget. Stains of dark
carmine. Copper coloured rust melting away when dusk fills
the room. I mean it’s always the fogged knowledge of those
past features. You almost think the linen occasionally still
indents. Around the mouth and the two tiny nostrils. The
illusion of accord. Fusing the concave and convex. The
artfulness of breathing. Now develop these photos in your
darkroom exposing segments of never-seen dimensions.
Bulging reliefs of the eye-lids drawn with light. The entire
room is woven with the web of ambient noise, of a sudden
silence. Entangling the sunset. You can almost cut its
thickness with a sharp implement, tailoring the elastic fibres
of white lint. Unravelling.



The Album of the Living

This album is dissimilar. This contains a series featuring your
face. A milliard photos so that it is difficult to find the image
that’s dead right. I stole this face when you were asleep.
Leafing through a cloth of mirrors with a single motion. You
could always decide to wake, roll up the white linen and
leave. But only if you knew. Yes. It’s more credible to carve
contours out of light yellow dusk. The vivacity of what’s not.
To highlight a likeness of yourself in a darkroom. To
caricature once-animate figurines. To remember. Pottering
about in the dark at night. Like a mini-god working
laboriously in unknown cellars. Like an icon-maker, the
mirror-maker, am I? The glassblower. The icon is not
memory. The icon is a negative of what I can never fully see
in three dimensions. Because it’s hard to be optimistic
sometimes. To have trust in your texture, to recall geology.
Am I only reproducing yet another negative of numerous
negatives of you? Am I getting not an inch closer to your
surface? This icon is painstakingly observing itself in dark
tunnels of kaleidoscopes reeling gradually an inch further
each time backwards. It peeps in one end and light enters the
other end. Whatever direction you take, there are fine
symmetric patterns of a face, duplicate. Cleansing its rusty
skin with fluffs of white cotton each night. Combing its
copper coloured hair backwards, into my face. The morning
comes. I would like to write about your face as if you were
dead. Not as an icon. The glossy chronicle of a sharp profile.
I’d keep a copy of the codex in a glass case thereafter. When
I say you, I am talking about the earth. You see, if I were to
record your face, the world would have endless replicas of
maps. And in the end no-one would know where you are.
Where the planet was. The original. But there is always the
protection of the linen. Do you think? The sepia shroud glued
to the skin. The white folio. The atlas. I must start a new
page. And leave it blank.



The Parchment Skin

(for a friendship)

I mean, to remember is like carving
coffins out of cedars and graffitiing a
simple word all over the façade. Learning
reiterations by heart. Against traps of
falling towards forgetfulness. Coffin texts
engraved about the detours of the forgotten.
The loss of the sun. Eyelids.
Tattooed with instructions. Written
vertically, towards an idle present. They
spiral. Spiralling nowhere like odd church
towers which, you say, look unfinished
like the past. Beheaded here-and-nows.
Colossal owls. White-washed lighthouses.
Minding town and sea. Spotting caravans
of cargo ships inching along the
midsummer horizon. Is this journey ever
going to end? Between now and then, to
and fro in this notebook? Back and forth
between these visitations. We are lost
between the length and height, width and
breadth of remembering. Enveloped.
Between layers of shadows. Have you
noticed the adjournment of the years
ahead? Savouring the milky hour from
bottomless mugs. Will we remember how
we drank time? Have you ever been in
this underground garden before?
Assembling for an early morning
labyrinthine breakfast? A life-long
preparation. Iterations. Don’t forget the
teaspoon. The porcelain. Slurping from
dead wells. Counting the clock. Counting
cocooned bugs. Matter-of-fact bugs, as
long as empty cases count. They count.
We spot a dozen of them. We spot the
impromptuness with which we spot them.
The impromptuness with which we forget
them. You say, the absence of memories
is a little bit like dying. Or dying for the
second time. That’s why. Let’s try and
graffiti coffins carved out of cedars. You
do mine. Here, on my dry skin. Where is
the dragonfly? Its disposed skin stuck to
the reed. How can nothing hold on; after
all? With antennae, with empty gloves.
Abandoned gravitation. The skin of
twenty odd years. The cocoon of the sepia
city in waiting. A light yellow home.
Cities don’t leave, they stay. They don’t.
They travel in sunburnt parchments. In
sand grains. In the vertigo of the sea. In
the shell of the crab crawling to and fro.
In your hand crawling to and fro.
Rotating. The way you drag its empty
body around carving circles in the sand.
The resemblance dizzies me. The likeness
between the cocoon and the body that is
gone. The similarity between the live and
the dead. Importunate sea gulls in the
North wind. Fishing in the air. Circulating
above us. They come almost too close to
my face, as if they were, in fact, fishing
for faces, fishing for hair, fishing for skin.
Fishing for shadows and for ghosts. For
holes in pebbles. Impromptu absences
washed out by the tide, sucked back into
no-time. Where will we have come from,
not now, but by then? Before the twenty
odd years. Do you remember the
swimming pools at home? Will they
always be there? Which one shall we go
to? I warned you not to drown. The
simultaneous shivering and sweating. The
old spectres of pubs, wingless, hunched.
What do we do with these non-events of
life? The ‘all is well’, the way you shrug
your shoulders. The way I shrug mine.
The way grandfather used to. At home.
But not a matter-of-fact home. Unless the
earth counts. It counts. The trains. The
maladroit crawling of a daddy-long-legs
on a train window. The resistance of the
wind. Its cohesive hold. Then how softly
and gently off it goes, back to the time of
departure. The water spiders, like split
seconds in the garden of memorilessness.
The milky coffee and the huge mugs. We
are drinking time. The frogs in the pond as
if they were hours crawling between us
and the unknown on a liquefied never-
will-be-day. The varied skin patterns. We
count them. The poisonous bluebells. The
bees drowning in their lilac embrace. Let
go. Of the twenty odd years. The summer
is nearly over. The sweltering early
autumns, the yellow chestnut trees. The
autumn crows. The home crows. How
defencelessly bizarre they are.
Defencelessly ugly. The crow families at
home. The crow nests at home, the have-
you-seen-one questions. The crisp North
wind here. Goosebumps of memories: I
told you, you’ll be freezing. Here is my
woolly jumper. Put it on. My skin.

From second collection in English (soon to be published by Egg Box at the close of 2010)


Ágnes Lehóczky is a Hungarian-born poet and translator. She studied for her Masters in English and Hungarian Literature at Pazmany Peter University of Hungary (1994-2001) then completed a Creative Writing MA in Poetry at the University of East Anglia with a distinction in 2006. She is currently completing a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing at UEA where she is teaching Creative Writing on the Undergraduate Programme. She has two short poetry collections, Station X (2000) and Medallion (2002) by Universitas published in Budapest, Hungary, both written in Hungarian.

Her first English collection was published by Egg Box Publishing in 2008 and is entitled Budapest to Babel. She is this year’s recipient of the Arthur Welton Poetry Award and has recently been selected as the winner of the Daniil Pashkoff Prize 2010 in poetry administered by international Writers Ink. She is currently working on her second collection in English to be published by Egg Box in 2010/2011. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Agnes Nemes Nagy are to be published in 2010/2011 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 28th, 2010.