I got mixed up in the whole thing
By accident, one evening
bumped into Pavel, as kids
we played a lot of soccer together, he said they needed someone…
and there was money in it:
German marks, gold – nothing like that
Had ever come my way, not even by chance…
When we went into that house,
There must have been ten or eleven of them.
They didn’t move, just sat, stared fixed at us,
Didn’t make a sound, not even the children,
Just trembled speechless, like leaves.
Pavel led them all outside to the front of the house,
Then I just remember that mad rattle,
Two minutes, and not one of them stirred.
Mirko brought in the first girl, a blond,
Beautiful, like a film star. Poor thing, kicked and scratched,
Wasn’t much use, there were seven of us…
Then Mirko said do
What you want with her, but you know
We don’t have enough room, or food,
And they bring new ones everyday. We set off
In the car, heading somewhere, nowhere,
Stopped suddenly on the edge of a forest,
Pavel took his gun, they got out,
Thirty seconds, and we were off again… One of them
I remember clearly: a kind of chubby
Woman, thirties, still pretty,
Some kind of teacher – maybe cause I was the one
Who had to get out…
The only trouble is that I sleep badly.
All comes back to me in my dreams,
Even what I can’t remember awake:
The old woman in the stone-floored kitchen,
The girl clutching her cat…
I wake up with a start, then just lie there awake
In the pitch black, waiting for morning.
Or I flip on a light, knock down a shot,
Smoke half a pack, pace
Back and forth for hours in the kitchen.
If the whole upheaval hadn’t happened,
Under other circumstances I would have lived
Like my father, like everyone.
Merry-go-round goes round: work, family,
Before you know life is up…
Sometimes I drink, or smack the kid
one good – you know how people are…
But that no, that never – that merciless
Wolf’s grin, the eyes misty with glee,
I know I won’t see that face
That stared back at me from the blood-freckled mirror
Of a ransacked bedroom…
Translated by Thomas Cooper
A shriek, and suddenly someone’s in flames.
The fluttering Santa Claus beard, the mantle
Stretching almost down to the floor, ablaze,
Snapped by the flame of the Christmas tree candle.
The deathly-pale teachers usher us all
Hurriedly out of the horror struck hall.
Several months later we see him again,
His swollen chin a raw-flesh rosy glaze.
And this one, the mark of forceps still plain
On his forehead. He falters and sways
as he walks, as if bowing at the whim
of fate, that has dealt so unkindly with him.
On the sunken-in face two noseless holes,
In different directions two vacant eyes,
piously struggling, incessantly roll.
A breakdown in a system otherwise
Reliable. A caprice untoward
That chanced to flit through the mind of Our Lord.
It is this same Lord that I ask at night
To watch over me when I go to bed,
Or awake, standing on ice, by moonlight
Perched on the rooftop, a reasonless dread,
Like in a bad novel where virtue prevails,
misfortune’s merely for twists in the tale.
Then all of a sudden they draw aside
The curtain, and in the bright sky aglow
The brain-dead sun. Incidental clouds glide
Through the accidental puddles below…
Adapted from the Hungarian by Thomas Cooper