Len Roberts

  Poets as Translators - Len Roberts

 

Poems:

(1) Tilting Pagodas
(2) Centripetal/Centrifugal Force
(3) Jerome's Lion
(4) Land O'Lakes
(5) Like the Weeds and Flowers
(6) Go-Cart
(7) Saturday Night Fights
(8) Lighting the Candles
(9) Road Rage
(10) Boilermakers My Father, Tu Fu, and the Nine Storks
(11) Persistent Cricket
(12) Well, Mom,
(13) Walnuts, October, Wassergass
(14) Nights, lately, I've been going to
(15) Antique Store, P�cs, Hungary
(16) Near the Paulite Church, P�cs, Hungary
 

Translations:

(1) Where Are My Betters Who Fell Behind?
(2) Everything I Had
(3) The Man Leaves His House
(4) I Was Watching the Bushes
(5) I Will Bear Your Slow Purification
(6) The Memory of an Era
(7) Late Winter Morning
(8)You'd Be a Bad Resident of Heaven
(9) Hide the Miracle
(10) Winter Night
(11) A Hoarfrost Wreath on the Grave
(12) A Friend's Pleading Words to Another
(13) Because There Was a Time
(14) Day by Day
(15) Woods in October
(16) Corals

 

 

Len Roberts

Tilting Pagodas


Separating the darks
from the lights, a cup
    of bleach
in the empty washer
    first,
then filling a bit
        with water
before hurling our son's
dirt-grimed socks in,
even the Perkins Coffee Maker
        humming along
now that I've found the brown
        filters
and green tin of Columbian
        Ground,
the smell drifting out the way
        it used to
those mornings you'd wake before
        me and walk quietly
            downstairs
to this tiled floor and blue-walled
    kitchen
where the same refrigerator and same
    stove gleam,
the same doorknob you'd twist
on your way out to get the morning paper,
the same blue plates with an oriental
    background-
bamboo, ponds, storks, and pagodas
that seemed to slant, high on their hills,-
the ones we lined up that morning to see
    they all did lean to the left,
making the two of us tilt as though our world
    was out of skew
and we did what we could to right it.

 



Len Roberts

Centripetal/Centrifugal Force


The planets whirled around the sun
on that fourth-grade blackboard 
Sister Ann labeled the Milky Way Galaxy, 
and it was my turn to tell the class 
if it was centripetal or centrifugal force 
that made them circle without spinning off 
    into space, 
the inner pull or pushing away 
I never did get right, not then, not today 
as I sit here wondering where my wife 
    has been the entire morning, 
Gone to shop, the note said when I rose, 
late, from bed to drop the first load 
of laundry in, the darks together-I've learned 
that much-only to stare at the central cylinder 
that struck me as a black pole all those clothes 
swirled around in the centripetal or centrifugal 
force that washed then rinsed then spun and, 
an hour later, when the weed whacker toppled tall weeds 
about to take over the stone row and pond's edge, 
that orange string always whirring about the black center 
    as it sliced its own circular swath,
the whole morning pivoting on my worrying 
over where she had gone again, the clock moving 
    with its own sure gravity 
around the brass pin that held down the two black arrows 
always threatening to shoot out into nothing I wanted to think about, 
refusing to look in her closet to see if her favorite skirt was missing, 
    the favorite blouse, 
knowing I'd turn in my own hellish circle in that dark, 
as though a pencil tied to a long string made its full black arc of doubt-
one full revolution of pulling in, pushing out-around the still point of 
    my heart.

 



Len Roberts

Jerome's Lion


A lizard there, too,
looking like a crevice in the stone, 
the one I honed in on when we were told
to write one hundred words about Jerome's lion
as the sun kept rising behind the saint, 
Casting that shadow of doubt
he had to wrestle with, Sister Ann hissed,
but I could only stare at the lizard's red eyes, 
the tail that would flick whenever he wanted 
    to disappear,
the four squat, bent legs so near 
the sand where he'd already traced
    his own message
I tilted my head and squinted to see,
knowing those curved grooves were talking 
    directly to me 
the way the glittering book and thorned cross
    spoke to the others,
those cool slitherings a shade darker
    than the lion's glowing mane,
otherworldly whisperings I sensed even then
    were not from God.

 



Len Roberts

Land O' Lakes


Strong coffee, the heavy white cup, 
sugar container crystal clear 
beside the yellow milk jug 
that always creamed on top, 
    and biscuits, too,
with peach jam, raspberry jam,
strawberry, black currant
while the sun shone through
the squeaky windows and she'd
lift that heavy, silver crucifix 
three times above my head, 
bringing it down hard,
Repentance and Sin, Sin and Repentance
echoing from my grandmother's lips
that stopped only to ask where
my father had spent the night,
was my mother off to Troy again?,
her hobbled gait from stove
to table five seconds I would count
while staring at the white plate,
the shining fork, spoon, knife,
everything glittering as she whispered
More where that came from
into my red ear she had used to lift me
from the chair to wash my dirty
hands and face, and then used to set me
down again to as many pancakes 
    as I could eat,
three to a stack with a bowl
of batter that had no end
as long as I bent my head
and prayed aloud for grace
while the Land O'Lakes
butter streamed into maple syrup
on my overflowing plate.

 



Len Roberts

Like the Weeds and Flowers


I tell myself I will learn
the names of the bones
    when she is burned
but know it will turn out 
like the weeds and flowers,
how many springs I asked
    Which is this?,
    Which is that?,
    tearing out,
    patting down,
Sorry, Sorry, Sorry
    trailing me 
through her garden
till I was resigned
to bringing over mulch,
spreading it carefully under
    plants
I otherwise would not touch,
that's what I'll do with 
    the bones,
I think to myself
as the undertaker asks
To be buried or burned?,
her short, blunt fingers,
    the high hips
and pelvis thick with flesh,
the width of her back always
    surprising
when I wrapped her tight
and squeezed till it hurt.

 



Len Roberts

Go-Cart


She wants an electric wheelchair, 
a Go-cart, she whispers over
    the telephone,
so pleased at her own joke 
she laughs a good ten seconds 
while I count the cents for this 
    long-distance talk
we never had when she was mother 
    and I son
in that other flat, a fact

I want to remind her of but bite 
    my tongue
as I did in that Sunday-steaming 
    kitchen
when chicken dropped from the bone
into mashed potatoes and peas smothered
    with white creamy sauce
and she quietly said she was leaving, 
    rose
to click off the brown porch 
with not one look back.

But now she can't take a single step, 
must roll from the wheelchair
onto the toilet seat to piss, 
the breasts sliced off, the uterus gone,
how she slept the last twenty years in 
    a separate bed
despite the fat Irish lover she'd left 
    us for,

her cracked words about Bingo 
and a thousand-piece puzzle
    that's a giant rose
coming through like static 
    from that other world
where we sat at the long table,
my mother thirty-two and I, twelve,
her hair black, her legs thin and curved,
her lips glaring with fire-red lipstick

as she set down the heavy plate
    and glass of milk
filled to the brim that I'd have to 
    lean over to sip
before lifting to my trembling lip,
watching her watch my every move,
the two of us closer than we'd 
    ever been,
waiting for the slightest spill.

 



Len Roberts

Saturday Night Fights


I wasn't there when 
the black wings landed
on your chest and lifted,
although the woman you'd fucked
    all night
said you garbled my name while
feinting left, jabbing right,
like those Saturday Night Fights,
when we'd watch Sugar Ray
    dart
in and out before the bleeding 
    would start,
your left fist a few inches from 
    your pockmarked cheek,
right level with your shoulder,
    cocked, ready
to shoot straight from the heart,
    dancing 
in that dark parlor the woman 
    had left,
the dodge, the jab, slicing
    undercut 
while you warned me in jumbled breaths
that speed and strength weren't everything,
tapping that thick index finger hard
    into my forehead
as you mumbled it was all in there, 
    There,
the bone of my brow thudding loud
those few final seconds before you
    passed out.

 



Len Roberts

Lighting the Candles


With my back to the congregation
I lifted the burning wick
and carefully lit one red
candle, then one white, 
for the soul of the man
who lay in the coffin
quiet at last, no more
bottles of beer broken
against floor or wall,
no more fists pounding
on the closed door,

the red candle catching
like the clot of blood, 
I thought, must have caught
in his throat, his heart,
that Sunday morning he woke 
only to be snuffed out, 
the white candle like the gloves
of that woman who'd
high-heeled off our front porch
and did not once look back,

a hush in the church
when I turned around
with flames in my hands
to watch him go
in death as he had in life,
a wavering circle of smoke
that broke as it rose
into the stained-glass light.

 



Len Roberts

Road Rage


For three blocks now
he's been right on my tail,
blaring horn, blinking lights,
shaking his fist out the window,
his face livid with road rage,
the name we've finally given 
to the violence bubbling up 
    all around us, 
my son licking his ice cream cone 
while I try not to look in the rear- 
    view mirror for fear 
I'll slam on my brakes, get out 
the way my father did those mornings 
on the Golden Eagle bread route
when someone tailed too close, 
Not taking shit from anyone, he'd shout,
sometimes just that, sometimes the fists,
blood, the quietness when he'd climb back in
the heated cab and turn the radio down, 
lean toward me to tap my forehead hard 
with that thick middle finger of his, 
lifting it up before my eyes as he whispered,
This is what the world is.

 



Len Roberts

Boilermakers


Cholesterol 154
but the HDLs too low
and the LDLs too high,
so the ratio's medium risk
    anyway,
my father dead at 47
of a heart attack,
his brother at 53,
and here I am 51 and counting
    like everyone else,
my friends last weekend,
    for instance,
when the conversation turned
to cancer and emphysema and liver
    disease
until not even the beer could buoy
    us up, 
not even the white russians and whiskeys
    with coke,
or the old boilermakers we were so proud
    to drink thirty, forty years ago
when we strode up to any bar and ordered
    one and then another and another
only to end up here with rows and rows
    of vitamin pills 
and watching what we eat, no more steaks 
    and hamburgers on the grill 
but vegetables skewered and charred to 
    look like meat, 
one's knees blown, another's elbows, 
a hand thrust out onto the table
where a finger points out cysts grown
    practically overnight,
red, raw bubbles of flesh that glimmer
in the charcoals' flickering light.

 



Len Roberts

My Father, Tu Fu, and the Nine Storks


Alone at the top of the third
hill behind my house, snow
completely covering everything 
except for the black and ragged trees
jutting from the stone rows, branch-
    calligraphy,
I see my father again in the black kimono
    brought back from the war,
the gold dragon reared up, red eyes, red tongue,
the blue smoke of Luckys clouding his head
while my old man sits at the white porcelain table,
his eyes bloodshot, inscrutable
from the four quarts of Schaefer's, 
his fingers clever, thieving, as he stacks coins
from the Golden Eagle bread route.

In Wassergass January I know my father 
    is still lost
on the Great West Road somewhere in Cohoes, New York, 
the hundred mountain peaks of the Adirondacks 
stretched out, black, before him,
the Ten Thousand Miles,
the Ten Thousand Sorrows,
Kung Sung's dancing with two swords no help
as she turns into my mother, his wife,
thrusting at him with the butcher knife,
    no help the scrolls
of the Hudson Valley Community College course
on Architecture and Design to trace homes
and roads late beneath the dim light,

my father's hands drifting to the narrow margins
where a jungle suddenly appears, vines, bamboo, 
    huge flowers,
men buried to their shoulders in the earth,
faces looking up to a sky completely blank
till he draws the nine storks circling with wings 
    spread wide,
long bony beaks, long bony legs,-
the traditional nine lives given to everyone at birth,-
rising in the whirls of that one-inch, full-page, snakelike 
    gyre,
growing smaller and smaller till the last one is nothing
but a winged dot about to soar off the top into the night.

 



Len Roberts

Persistent Cricket


A cricket, that cliche of persistence,
    will not stop cracking his black 
    wings all morning
    although this is April
    and he's in the wrong scene,
like my father so often was-boxer delivering 
    a box of eclairs,
drunk trying to button the white shirt, corpse 
    with stitched lips and a harmonica 
    stuffed in the suit pocket
    where the handkerchief belonged, 
or my mother, my brothers, a list long enough 
    to fill this warm morning with blue 
    bathrobes and boys in bathrooms 
    and electroshocks, 
    those usual
    props
that will not change despite their deaths, 
    persistent as this cricket
somewhere by the pear and peach trees budding, 
    finally,
    after four years of nothing
    but blossoms,
those white petals that promised, promised, promised
    like Irene in the red bathing suit and Ellen
    with the gold-sparkled eyelids and lips,
    and another list forms that the
    cricket applauds in his own
    black music

as though he'd sat in the back row of the Cohoes Theater
    watching his love's legs shimmer
    in silk stockings,
as though he'd tongued his love for timeless minutes
    till she came and he fell asleep
    with his head between her legs,
as though he'd held a phone once in his life saying
    goodbye, goodbye, goodbye,

    leaving him hollow, leaving him in spring
    where he's out of place
with his shrill, chirping song and long antennae and legs,
    his ability to leap
hundreds of times his own length without missing a single beat
    rising from his weightless heart.

 



Len Roberts

Well, Mom,


you're finally alone
     with your frozen
sides of beef, whole chickens
     with their stiff feet,
legs of veal, five-pound plastic
     bags of shrimp,
the gallon bottles of spring water
still lined on the cellar shelves
     for when the bomb
falls as you've been waiting for it to fall
     these past fifty years,
ready with canned asparagus, corn, beets,
the whole gleaming fear
of your young starving on Olmstead Street,
     Nick's
gone, 47, Dad, too, twenty years ago, 47,
     and you
sit, 66, on the Mediterranean couch that's
     covered with plastic 
                                   who
comes to visit. And the dog's gone, too,
your cursing in the kitchen,
the black nights of your unloving,
for all I know the polka-dot dress
thrown out years ago, the white crucifix
     that hung
above your sleeping body now tacked in the
     cellar
doorway, the plated gold of his feet worn
     away by your lips, still
painted, full, and stiff.

 



Len Roberts

Walnuts, October, Wassergass


Clear October, the goldenrod
     and aster turned
from summer, the Farewell-to-Summer
     already
having said farewell, and I raked
     the walnuts down
to the gravel driveway, so our car tires
     would crush
the thick, green shells and we could crack
     them open
on the blue porch, pick out the meat
     and eat. Each
fall I am surprised by how many drop
     in one night, at
the half-chewed ones, the sharp teeth,
     the cold
dark in which my wife and son and I sleep
     although
the walnuts are thudding through the autumn air.
I lifted them up and smelled the bitterness,
I smeared the brown walnut stain on my fingertips
     and thought
of my mother's walnut coffee table, her kitchen
     table and chairs, the rich,
dark brown of the walnut box she kept
     her fake pearl
necklace and earrings in. And I knew again
my mother would be dead within the year, by
the time new walnuts once more had grown full
     and fallen, her voice
thin as walnut stems, her hair sparse
     as the walnut tree's leaves
that hung onto the black, twisted limbs
and there, behind them, the cold, clear
     blue of winter coming.

 



Len Roberts

Nights, lately, I've been going to


     sleep holding 
my penis, as though that might stop 
me from seeing my father again
as he climbed from the Golden Eagle
     bread truck
and handed us each a box of cream-
     filled doughnuts, rolled
the racks out in zero degrees so we
     could choose. It is
an anchor in the black bed in my
     forty-second year
as my older brother enters madness
and drowns of emphysema on April
     sixth
and my younger goes down
     on a Cambridge
Street, swinging at invisible men
he has blown and fucked and left.
     This cock
that has entered my wife's blood
and made our son's blood, that lies
     limp
after love the way I wish I could
     lay my head
on my love, cock that wakes me up
     some mornings
with a flag erected on its tip
that some adventurer to the North
     Pole left
before he started back. Cock of 
     Cohoes, Dayton, Bethlehem,
cock in European cities and Asian
     cities, swaying,
snug in the white underwear, pissing
     into snow, toilets,
pissing on trains, off buildings,
     staring down
all of its life except those few
     moments
of wonder when it enters the cave-
cunt-prehistoric mother-darkness
and comes for all its worth
despite death
and the insurance/retirement plan,
despite the bombings
and the random shootings,
despite Sister Ann Zita slapping Donald
     Wilcox's hands into blisters
because he took it out and let its bald
     eye look upon the world
of that first grade class. Despite
Hiroshima and Guadalcanal and the Battle
     of the Bulge
and all the ads that say Where is it,
     Where is it,
despite the skyscrapers and bombers that
     imitate it,
despite hard, waxen toilet papers that
     scratch it
and the too-soft tissue that clings to it.
Despite the United States of America
and Russia and Noriega and Ceaucescu
and the conspiracies of undercover agents
     who beat it
because they are afraid to hang the medal
     of life about its neck.
Despite Barbara Walters and Don Rickles,
despite Lassie and Harriet Nelson, despite
Reagan and the Nancy Drew stories, despite
you and me keeping it in our pants like
     loose change, our
servant, yellow, black, red and white and 
     blue slave, quiet
in there until the aunts have gone home
     and the uncles
are too drunk too notice, when the party
     begins, dim
lights and Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me
     comes
on the past's radio and the cock bows
     and dances
with any partner he wants till dawn.

 



Len Roberts

Antique Store, Pecs, Hungary


Soldiers on blood-frothed white horses reared
     across
the toes of beaded Polish moccasins in
     the antique
store on Kossuth ter, their inch-long
sabers drawn into the leathery air
while the pretty Hungarian woman behind
     the counter
smoothed a brass barrette of two tiny
     angels holding
each other's hands in her glowing hair.
In the clear glass shelves women wailed
in long lines of polished quartz, some
leaning on sticks, others standing straight
     in the little light, all
of them walking toward the black trains
     that waited on the side, beside
the miniature synagogue with the thatched
     roof and the inch-sized
Book of the Dead, all the names real, she
     said as she flicked 
the pages open to show the miniscule scroll,
last names first, first last, and the gold
     star
that clasped the book closed. I could feel
the children's weight, the mother's heavy
     suitcase, I could hear
their last words, smell the smoke.
I could hold their hands and dance with
     the pretty one
who had braided blond hair. Passing the
     salt, the paprika, I
heard the knock on the door, saw the bodies
     piled in the hole 
beside me, wondered if the small leg belonged
     to my son, if the fixed 
hand was my wife's. At three p.m. on a Friday
     in Pecs, Hungary
I lifted the green ceramic lions made
     in the Zolnay Factory
by the men who would be shot, I bought
the hand-stitched tablecloth from 1938, the bright
red roses clumped in the corners, the green
     tendrils climbing
the walls of small houses the soft yellow
     of the sun. I paid the full
six hundred forints for the lions without
     tongues
guarding both sides of the Erzebet bridge, two hundred
     forints for the peasant
girl with acorns in her lap, her face looking 
     up at the sounds
only she could hear in the empty air, everything
behind her burning, not one house left, not one
     dog, not one horse,
the smoke curling and stinking of human
     bodies, of faces and backs,
the wonderful calves, the delicate hands
     and wrists
smoldering by the carved lilies in the town
     park, one
swing left with chains swinging above
     the dustless shelves.

 



Len Roberts

Near the Paulite Church, Pecs, Hungary


For the first six months I didn't know
     the bells
were clanging me to mass at
7:20, 12, and again at 6, their
     uneven
tolling waking me from sleep, from
     books, from dark. I would
have gone on November first, the day
     my father sat 
straight up in his piss-stained sheets
     and died of a weak
heart; I would have knelt on Christmas 
     Eve
and February thirteenth, to celebrate
Christ's birth and my son's birth,
     would
have stared and prayed and dropped
     money in the basket
for a God I'm not sure exists. But
I am not worthy of the small wooden cross,
     nor
the Gospel lines my friend David sends.
On an ordinary Tuesday I bow my head.
     Nothing
stirs. I don't know who or what is dead.



Sándor Csoóri 

Where Are My Betters Who Fell Behind?

                (Incomplete sonnet)

Where are my betters who fell behind:
the swishing-brains, the saints,
the half-crazed inventors who send
messages with green-backed, bright bugs to the moon?

Perhaps they, like the silk princes,
ramble between seas and islands?
or they sleep with Greek ruins,
behind the Gods' lazy eyelids?

Why don't they drink their beer
by the kennel wall, where the dog
guards the geniuses' skulls. Here, here,

where the hearts daily fall flat on their backs
and the children learn the death-alphabet
in the dust from fools and poets?

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and M�ria Szende)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

Everything I Had


Everything I had, I gave to others:
my time, my patience, the cloudless
afternoons of my wasps. The stripped
winter forest, which looked like a gigantic
hedgehog from a distance. And the money, the money,
the pathetic money, like somebody
dispensing gold with St. Laszlo's hand.

Many laughed at me, too, like a daft
monk. They laughed but they followed
me in a large crew. They came
morning and night; they came
blackened from among the tossed-aside railroad ties,
from the colorful throng of city neon-butterflies,
they came from the timeless time of sunbathing books,
clotted scarves or faded handkerchiefs on their necks.

I wasn't their savior. I was their fool.
A promising, independent thief who
loathes alcohol, blood, nursing nicotine,
but one day may have an honored place
on Golgotha,-and a sty, a dead-end street,
a species of smile growing extinct can be named
after him at the millennium's end, if there's someone
left who will think to do such things.

Only barbaric hopes and miracle-expecting hours
are ticking around me, like the undamaged clock
of the car that crashed into a tree. But where, now,
shall I look for a clearly visible God, 
a true fool, laughable, to replace me,
one who would squanderingly hand out his voice, his hands,
his imagination, the big mountains sprawling within him again,
who might even be pleased now and then because his 
looted November face resembles the looted November sky?

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and M�ria Szende)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

The Man Leaves His House


Vain brightness, where do you call me?
Vain brightness, I'm walking toward you on the road.
Yellow sun-mirrors, sparkling spring water,
I'm walking toward you on the road.

The peach tree explodes, it's blooming;
the man leaves his house, walks nameless fields,
not asking anything, not answering anything,
a cloud drifting into his eyes,
or a strayed beetle.

 

XThe city's left behind. Erratic chalk-drawings on its walls:
primitive fish swim on the waves of stone and cement;
matchstick-leg women drift,
plummeting planes
and the shocking signs of the different sexes.

This is how we merge with our lives here!
We watch ourselves from outside ourselves, and say:
    we've lived
and we shall live for a long time yet on the Earth.

 

XIn this primitive brightness
even my piety is returned by the trees' kindness.
City, your clamor: scratching of maybeetles trapped in a box,
good to listen to from a distance, when the clouds also noisily 
    float. Between the water-splashing and the fabricated din,
I stagger toward silence over a thin bridge.
My eyes are happy to wander in the tree tops,
my mind's happy to imagine the universe.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Anette Marta)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

I Was Watching the Bushes


War news on the radio in the evening
and soldiers in the tree-lined alley that seals infinity-
I didn't close my eyes all night,
as though I'd kept vigil at the city morgue over a woman's
    car-crushed corpse.

The neighbor's clock struck four when I got dressed
    and aimlessly set off.
The streets were still lying numb with cold, stiff
like lamp posts flattened in the mud.
I was sickened by the strong stink of pitch.

I was watching the bushes, what was going on?
    watching the windows,
    the dirty water that gathered in the hollows,
and above the puddles, my head's drifting shadow.

In the park opposite
    it seemed as if someone had been digging
    a pit for himself among the trees,
wrists stirred, clods thudded-

Maybe each last judgment, each ravagement starts afresh?
and flies will walk
    on hands, dead eyeballs,
    as though on light bulbs that have burnt out.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Anette Marta)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

I Will Bear Your Slow Purification


I alone know your sorrowful sin
and I can forgive it, I, who have also
    slept with death.
It's July: the fiery drum sounds behind our garden
and everyone wants to see you: the way you writhe in the dust.

Even from the wild rose bushes, gloating
eyes watch. Sashegy's slope is full of them.
    They're looking at your mysterious right hand:
is the frog-scum glove of the marsh on it?
is the indelible mark?

I'm crippled. A green blackthorn ticks
timelessly by my head. But go ahead, let them see you,
    show them the deep lake of your shame,
the crazed angel drowned in it, the one who'd taken you hostage, 
the one who would have taken you with himself to eternal flames.

In the morning, a high mountain-peak shines: God's lime-
white face. I don't want to look at anything else
    until you stand on your feet,
just this plateau of light. Should the stone dazzle me 
    for seven weeks,
should it dazzle for seventy-seven: I will bear your slow
    purification

in time, lovingly, or lovelessly, I, who have suffered
greatly from others' sins repeatedly, and more greatly
    from my own. On my hand
the green blood of grass, of leaves, dries, 
and the forest listens to the dull beats of my heart behind 
    your back.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

The Memory of an Era


Balloons raised the bouquets
        high
    instead of hands.
He who can still dream isn't amazed by such a feat.
    I was just standing, white as a sheet, on the corner of the square
    surrounded by trumpet-fanfare,
    just staring at my hands,
    scrap-iron, ready to be tossed out.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

Late Winter Morning


We're here and everything is still here
that can help us to live today, too:
the wind rushing along the quays,
they heavy sighs bursting from the trees,
and a gull circling low
over the Danube. It floats, it pauses,
keeps busily counting
the deathly ice floes that float toward Belgrade.
And your green eyes, which cast 
this day ashore, are also here.
Green, green, green-the numb
augurs just keep gaping under the cold sky,
they would like to utter aloud
the leaves' green, the lilac's green,
and the lettuce's green leafing in the softing rains,
so it wouldn't be me who'd have to dream them again.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

You'd Be a Bad Resident of Heaven


I can see nothing else, only your body,
your empire-large hair in wind and on a sick bed;
I know nothing else, just the things you might like,
things you let come near you from the swift days.

A glass sliver hurls you above the hill's mud;
you walk in a diminished sky, you let your glance ramble;
in bird- and cloud-traffic you are clumsier than in the Great 
    Boulevard;
you'd be a bad resident of heaven, and I've known this for a 
    long time.

Wild grass suits your ankles, wild mallow, M�tra weed,
stone-flow, water-flow, lecherous basil,
bell-toll that rolls along the ground, not the one that buries
    in the wind.
You can lure a ladybird, a toothed oak leaf into your bed.

Nobody suits me more, there's no body more feminine, no smile 
    more feminine,
you've remained a nomad, like the wind and the wild plum on its
    bridal night;
when you tread barefooted on grass tomorrow, I'll be velvety 
    inside,
and what shall I care whether the world grows splintery or
    metallic.

Another war is brewing, the future ruins are already stirring.
The sky wears dark glasses, too, like the coup d'�tat generals,
but even if we must sleep with bullets, you'll be there with me,
my hand will stay awake on your throbbing neck's pulse.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and L�szl� Vertes)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

Hide the Miracle


Everything's so plain and planned.
Hide the miracle, so I might love it!
Like wedge-headed locusts, explanations
restlessly devour the world.

Nothing makes my heart leap anymore,
so I look at the sky-rending miracles
as at a woman dressed in a sack, an elephant playing with a ball,
impatient, flustered, just for an instant

and I'm always looking for a madman in myself,
a saintfrancis
    talking to machines and continents:
a fanatic with an incurable mouth, who suffers
if he has no dangerous secret, no dream that can't be prevented,
for thus he has no hope, either-sunshine's just pouring down on him,
as on enthralled grass, as on fearful stone faces.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and L�szl� Vertes)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

Winter Night


At night, the city grows empty.
The snow falls without witness, alone.
Everyone stares at the unknown
murderer's footprint
in the tv screen's white ash.
Music plays. Brakes squeak. A street lamp draws aside,
stares like a wolf's eye
into a bushy, stiff face.

Nobody asks themselves anymore
whether they're still alive; like the squeaking of brakes,
only the deaths of others haunt in the nightmarish
    mirrors' depths, 
only the blood which can be sponged up with powdered sugar,
and the legs, leaving, seen only to the knee.

I see a snow-covered bullet fly,
taking its time, toward my forehead;
it flies in slow motion, like in the cartoons, so I still
    have time!
The entire night's before me,
every height of the lace-making sky,
the abandoned street snow, which wants to see
my footprints today, and tomorrow.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and L�szl� Vertes)

 



Sándor Csoóri 

 

                For ï¿½rp�d Visky

The time of remembrance has come and we remember.
Properly, we place hoarfrost wreaths 
on a grave: the modest gift of the snow-covered country.
For we must make the world and ourselves, too, believe
we are good at revering, at candle-lighting,
at the tempting trade of resurrecting.
    Let us believe and also make the others believe, but -
    meanwhile we'd better
be careful, lest the miracle should happen, for the one 
whose memory we now court: waits for the resurrection
of the most dangerous sort.
    By his common name Endre Ady.
    By his more plausible name God's Monster, Firestriker, the Lost
        Horseman,
    Lord Death's good neighbor, hundred-paced, magnificent
Hungarian who, having pressed forth to the head of the dead,
like a bridegroom, pinned an earthquaky flower onto his hat.
On tip-toe, rememberers!
into soft cat-paw sandals, rememberers!
into cotton-wool boots, into swamp-slippers, rememberers! For he
    might come back to us at the 
creak of the most 
    delicate 
heel-iron, and our undisturbed ceremonies, the triumphal
march of sand-drift words are finished. A coffin-rocket
breaks through the wallpapered walls of musical academies, and the
    seats of honor are demolished,
and the boxes tumble down in the theaters like moldy 
    crowsnests.
Our petty-minded love affairs are finished; the sighs
that have wafted Leda veils flee back into the lungs.
And dozsa-like eyes will gaze again at the snow-covered
lowlands, linden rows, the snow-covered women, the blood- 
    cart's tracks
up there.

Ice-Bakonys,
ice-countries, 
ice-Parises shine like diamonds,
and in Lake Balaton's catacombs, fish-candles light up
one after the other. With your breath held, rememberers!
A wreath onto the grave, rememberers! Thick snow-bombs before the
    mouths,
rememberers! We will
surely survive this beautiful,
this shivering,
this stifling day, too.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts, L�szl� Vertes, and Tibor Tengerdi)

 



 

Sándor Csoóri 

 

A Friend's Pleading Words to Another


Before you should lose me
and cover me forever with loamy earth,
seek a pleasant, blessed day,
a pleasant day that lasts from morning to dusk:
draw me from the bedchambers of anger into your Pentecostal fields,
draw me from the scenes of deceitful games and the usual bloodsheds
into the thistles,
let my troubles gurgle in the sky's dikes,
and let me eat wild sorrel, not meat, that day,
and cherries and air,
and let the birds drum on black bark again;
my eardrum wants to rejoice,
my eye wants to shine through sealed pheasant eggs,
for even though I love your houses that lean against the sky,
your lamps that move in the dark, drifting away
like motorboats,
my life will end there, where the locust leaves
lie on the ground,
the ant forecasts earthquakes
and, dipped in the forest at the village's fringe, I may belong to the
    wild again,
I may be the eyeball amplifying the drippings of the sap.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Claudia Zimmerman)

 



 

Sándor Csoóri 

 

Because There Was a Time


Because there was a time when there were no days at all,
not morning, not noon, not afternoon,
just as the sparrows were swishing as they flew from the stacks,
just the plum of my face that I watched fall into the well.
Winter? Autumn? Summer? just the mud moved footlessly,
just the color-shifting currant hedge in the garden,
just the butterflies tossing like old women's shawls;
I just ran away and returned,
I was just there, where I was a wound,
I was just my body, my hand, my foot,
just a faithful dog's eye behind the pallbearers' backs,
sweet and sour rains slept in my mouth,
I was just salt, blood, just honey, just nakedness.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Claudia Zimmerman)

 



 

Sándor Csoóri 

 

Day by Day


Day by day the thorns are sharper,
day by day July flashes more threateningly,
          as if a monster
               had teeth made of gold.

He who has only sighed thus far, standing on his threshold,
now grinds a jaw even in his timid dream,
          throws plates to the ground
               and kicks cats lying in the sun,
because he wants to hear crying and harsh moans to comfort himself,
making the echoes of old miseries even louder.

The century is lessening, frightfully thinning,
there's a brown blotch on its bony mephisto face.
Day by day the smile, locust blossom, and the dead one
      who fulfilled his mission are becoming stranger and stranger
           to it,
and everything reaches its own glory in it
               only as a fragment.

Oh, coy dictatorships, what a story this is! 
We wear down, lose vitality, molder away like silk, 
     and he who would have betrayed Christ long ago, 
now, without batting an eyelid, day by day betrays himself, 
great beasts play with his heart, 
               like clawed pussycats with a ball of yarn.

Lying on his back, the poet keeps trying to sing 
out on the hilltop, but he's lost 
               his tongue. 
The taste of spoiled elegies rises again in his mouth, 
as though he'd been fed 
           the livers of infected birds at dusk.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Mikl�s Horv�th)

 



Miklós Radnóti

Woods in October


Dripping tumult on the bush,
yesterday's gold forest litter
has moldered beneath the trees to brown mud,
covers snail and worm and bud,
a beetle's crushed shell;

it makes no sense to look about
for all is flooded with fright,
a scared squirrel shrieks at you,
drops its tiny scrap of food,
jumps and runs up a tree-trunk;

learn from the squirrel, protect yourself,
for winter's order will not save you,
nor will the aid of archangels,
a pearl-light quivers in the sky
and, one by one, your companions die.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and L�szl� Koml�si)

 



Attila József

Corals


Corals about your neck,
Frogs' heads upon the lake,
And dung--
On the snow the lambs' track of dung.

In the court of the moon a rose,
Belt of gold about your waist,
And around my neck--
Around my neck a noose.

Below your skirt, your thighs swaying,
Hammers of bells pendulating,
And, into the river,
Two poplars bending.

Below your skirt, your thighs swaying,
Hammers of bells ringing hollow,
And, into the river,
The dead leaves falling.

(Translated from the Hungarian by Len Roberts and Andy Rouse)

 

 

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Artful Dodge
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