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from "In Memoriam Hajnóczy Péter"

I have more and more cravings,
and fewer and fewer days
to tell off to the last one.
By 2030 (a generous estimate)
we shall - with our wives and our enemies,
those who keep eyes on us and those who pant with us -
all of us, all together, all enrich the soil,
the weird deposit bulldozers scoop up out of it.
A child, jubilant, knocks
soil riddled with fine roots out of your eye-socket:
"Dad, can I take this home? Was it a man or a lady?"
(translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri)

To Imre Nagy

You were impersonal, too, like the other leaders,
bespectacled, sober-suited; your voice lacked
sonority, for you didn't know quite what to say

on the spur of the moment to the gathered multitude. This urgency
was precisely the thing you found strange. I heard you,
old man in piece-nez, and was disappointed,
not yet to know

of the concrete yard where most likely the prosecutor
rattled off the sentence, or
of the rope's rough bruising, the ultimate shame.

Who can say what you might have said
from that balcony? Butchered opportunities
never return. Neither prison nor death
can resharpen the cutting edge of the moment

once it's been chipped. What we can do, though, is remember
the hurt, reluctant, hesitant man
who nonetheless soaked up
anger, delusion
and a whole nation's blind hope,

when the town woke to gunfire
that blew it apart.

(translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri)


Into destruction I would bring
an order whole and classical.
Hope for the good? Out of the question.
Let me die invisible.

Sors bona nihil aliud. To
whoever digs my bones I send
a message: which is, Look how all
God's picture-images must end.

And no there cannot be a heaven,
or else there oughtn't to be one
for, if there were, this plague of love
would still (come what may) go on.

Nor do I want the obverse - hell -
though of that I've had, will have, my bit
(planks beneath the chainsaw wail).

For anything unready, yet
ready too, I lie in the sun:
let the redeeming nowhere come.

(translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri)

Christmas 1956

On the twenty-second, at a certain moment
(6.45 a.m.), I, a child of ill omen,
born between Joe S. and Jesus,
become thirteen. It's my last year
of Christmas being a holiday. There's
plenty to eat: the economy of scarcity
was to my Gran as the Red Sea: she crossed over
with dry feet and a turkey. There's a present too -
for me: I control the market still - my one
cousin a mere girl, only four, and I
the last male of the line
(for the time being). Wine-soup, fish, there's everything,
considering we've just come up from the shelter -
where G.F. kept flashing a tommy-gun
with no magazine in it ('Get away, Gabe," he was told,
"D'you want the Russkies after us?").
Gabe (he won't be hanged till it's lilac-time)
comes in wishing us merry Christmas, there's no
midnight mass because of the curfew;
I concentrate on Monopoly, my present -
my aunt got it privately, the toyshops
not having much worth buying. My aunt has come,
in a way, to say goodbye: she's getting
out via Yugoslavia, but at the border (alas)
she'll be left behind, and so (in a dozen years
about) she will have to die of cancer of the spine.
Nobody knows how to play Monopoly, so
I start twiddling the knob on our Orion,
our wireless set, and gradually tune in
to London and America, like Mum in '44,
only louder: it's no longer forbidden - yet.
The Christmas-tree decorations, known by heart,
affect me now rather as many years on
a woman will, one loved for many years.
In the morning, barefoot, I'm still to be found
rummaging through the Monopoly cards, inhaling
the smell of fir-tree and candles. I bring in
a plateful of brawn from outside, Gran
is already cooking, she squeezes a lemon,
slices bread to my brawn. I crouch on a stool
in pyjamas. There's a smell of sleep and holiday.
Grandad's coughing in what was the servant's room,
his accountant's body, toothpick-thin,
thrown by a fit of it from under the quilt,
Mother's about too, the kitchen is filling up
with family, and it's just as an observer
dropped in the wrong place that I am here:
small, alien and gone cold.

(translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri)

"Hungarians probably need him more than he needs Hungarians; whether you acknowledge him or not, you always need a foul-mouthed prophet who will tell you the truth about yourself. Petri has an important function in Hungarian literature, and it would be a pity if he renounced it in order to relax in his private Tusculanum." (George Gömöri, World Literature Today, vol. 71)



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