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Zita Izsó, Hungary

The Poems

 

As the Offspring of the Cichlids

I mostly remember the snow.
We elbowed on the windowsill,
staring at the infinite whiteness
when the soldiers broke the door in.
I had just enough time
to drag my little sister to the pantry.
While we were hiding
each breath hurt as if a
bayonet was stabbing me.
I worried that it could pierce between my ribs.
Then it was over.
They’ll find us, my little sister screamed.
I squeezed my eyes shut so as
not to see what they would do to her.
It’s said that in the greatest need
one can hear God’s voice.
Perhaps you don’t speak, my Lord,
because you don’t carry us
in the palm of your hand, but in your mouth,
the way cichlids carry their offspring.
The soldiers dragged me out to the garden,
spread my legs.
stuffed snow in my mouth to stifle my weird,
prolonged scream. At first I didn’t
know it came from me. I thought
a rat got stuck between
the insulation and the roof, squealing,
struck its head until it was bloody and stuck.
But when the soldiers stuffed my mouth with snow
I realized the sound came from me.
The snow melted,
the slush dripping down my throat.
It tasted like the falling snow
my little sister and
I caught on our tongues.
Since the war began
nothing tastes the same,
not my mother’s soup,
not my granny’s sponge cake.
But the taste of snow didn’t change at all.
My mother said God carries us
in the palm of His hand,
not in His mouth.
Lying on the cold ground,
I am thinking of the warmth of your palm, my Lord.
When the soldiers finished, they stood up,
said nothing, remained silent.
The mountains drill the sky
the way teeth bite the lips
of a man suppressing a cry.

(Translated by Gábor Gyukics)

 

 

* * * 

 

 

Silence

For an instant after waking
you don’t recall what gravitation is.

But soon enough you recognize
the worn furniture
in the dim light,

and then remember
that Julius Caesar’s soldiers
burned the Great Library of Alexandria,
and man in the rock-cut tomb had been dead
for three days already.

You are as lonely
as if you were alone in the Garden of Eden.
In vain you’ve improved much.
In vain you have developed good qualities,
but if no one is there to acknowledge them,

you feel like
a plant
which became extinct
before it was discovered.

It would feel good if someone would be happy for you.
You imagine an alien whose face lies like a politcian’s
when he smiles at the year’s first newborns.

When you get up,
you won’t be waiting for His Creation any longer.
You recreate yourself each morning
using whatever substance is handy,
though you haven’t looked in the mirror for weeks
so you don’t know how you look.

You sit up.
It sounds as if someone is
crying behind the walls,
but it’s only in your head.
It’s hard to accept
that everything that exists is
with you in this room.

(Translated by Gábor Gyukics)

The Poet

Zita Izsó was born in Budapest in 1986. Her first poetry collection, Tengerlakó (Sea Dweller), won the Gérecz Attila Prize for the Year’s Best Debut Novel in 2012. With her first drama, she won the Hungarian Radio Playwriting Contest. Her second poetry collection, Színről színre (Face to face), was published in 2014. Since 2015, she and the Hungarian photographer Máté Bach have run The Pest Woman blog. In 2017, they published a book of collected interviews from the blog under the same title. Zita’s poems have been translated into English, German, Arabic, Turkish, Czech, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian. She published her third poetry collection in 2018 under the title Éjszakai földet érés (Nighttime Landing). She is one of the editors of the 1749.hu – World Literature Magazine. She translates English, German, French, and Spanish writers. Her fourth poetry collection will be published this autumn.