Krisztina Tóth

(Hungary, *1967)
Seven poems in translation by David Hill

On the nature of love
On the nature of pain
New Year's Eve
Metro trains in contrary directions
I'll bet you
Sends a smile


On the nature of love

Harbor suspicions as you watch closed eyes.
The water glugs beneath the ice, extras
act out the dream, and through the mouth's entrance/
exit an aerial procession slides;

recurring words, years reckoned in street signs,
buses that go zigzagging eastwards-westwards
across the nights, and on disordered bedclothes
the blinding signals drawn by motorist's lights …

… You've not been here. You lie here now, but that is
soon to be just a recollection. Therefore
intensively interrogate the hand which

recently moved as yours: you cannot ever
be sure who owns the body lying latticed
by shadows from the drapes, the stranger.


On the nature of pain,

which, fundamentally, cannot be fathomed.
Some don't say anything, but - in a bad case -
just stare dementedly while rocking that way
and this way to an inner rhythm;

while others stand up, knock a chair, and leave un-
steadily, they don't turn around (in fact they
do, but not physically), and just their back stays,
caught in the picture frame, long after quivering;

they don't ask for a light, ignite themselves, nor plan
some daring feat involving rope and rails;
they walk across the bridge and just look down …

… How should I have reacted? Glacially still,
reached down into my bag and drawn
a gun on you, like in the films?


New Year's Eve

Well, there's another year I've chased away.
It's dressed in snow and just on its way out.
I know you're somewhere: not here, not with me;
still, you exist, so everything's all right.

Tangible and imagined places
border upon another evening,
where you have come, but after some time gazing,
all that I saw was foreign in it.

Conversely, too, if I unpacked my handbag,
just foreign things is what you'd see there.
A handkerchief, spare keys, a soggy namecard -
nothing from which you'd recognize me, is there?

From just one shoe could you proclaim on sight
that it was mine? Or know me (I'd be able)
from glancing at a hung-up coat?
could you predict my imminent arrival?

And so I watch the room as in a mirror:
so spacious and familiar is this foreignness,
my unreal other life - I really
should spend this night asleep in bed;

long, heavy years, I should sleep through them all.
Sink, sink, don't surface in my forebrain:
when people ask me what I'm called,
I shouldn't start to think of your name.


Metro trains in contrary directions

You've got a good life now:
no more looking suspicious, rolling me round
inside your mouth, an unchewed morsel,
while all the grown-ups eat: now you're an angel.
The telephone won't interrupt you just when you're
giving your child an evening bath,
or any time, though you'll of course call me -
those steadily repeating stabs round midnight.
Nor will we meet by chance on buses:
the lovely serendipity
of strange occurrences is past, behind the smog-
filled sky the split-seconds will just move on;
you wont have extinguished the morning if
you don't go to the everyday bother of
draping the dark-red quilt over the glass door.
(I've left it there, it's pitch dark.)
Oh yeah - thanks for the title to the verse:
I'll be in touch as well, I will be there
in your engagement book, an eighth day with no name,
no business there and nowhere much to go.



"Hey, did it hurt? Hey, did you hear?"
I didn't. Lying back upon the couch, I gazed at
the colored circles gleaming with the back-light:
like a church window, yellow, blue and red
stained glass: something I'd never seen in an apartment.
We had to rush - by five his mom was coming.
He hopped behind me, pants around his ankles.
I squatted in the bath; he stood at the tap.
Yeah, I love it too. The morning's when it's nicest.

I was just sixteen, sixteen more years elapsed,
Then, on bus seven one day, there he was.
"The stained glass thing between the dining room and
the sitting room, you know? I guess you guys kept that up?"
"Be serious. That was just something Dad made.
He brought some colored files home from the office
and put them in between the double windows …
… I get off here and take the metro. Cheers!"

Why do all wonders have to be exploded?
Santa Claus. Storks. And now comes this.


I'll bet you

I'll bet you he's a traveler too
his eyebrows show it his peculiar
face is full of forests wheeltracks
autumn burnt leaves he could've

arrived by water who knows yes
he steered in viking-yellow glory
there in his eyes you still can see
the sway of sailcloth mornings

and on his arms rough shrubbery
a rowboat's slimy bottom
or rather of course southern land
a window holds him hostage

foreign locations foreign sounds
years locked inside aromas
he leans forward to mingle in an
electric lamp's extinguishing's enigma


Sends a smile


The other day I looked into your eyes in a stranger's face on the metro.
There are days like this when everything somehow jogs my memory.
Someone's a bit like someone you get off look at them and then no.
But this is another year past things can't be never-ending.

In the same way an old classmate walked toward me just like she was in childhood.
I never though it would happen to us too incidentally.
Oh god how much I would have liked to be beside you.
You're standing there in the metro and bang you grow old suddenly.

I often wonder how they'd react to each other these two bodies.
What your smell would be like I'm sure it must be different now.
If they even could react to each other these two bodies.
There's a thin scar where I gave birth to my little son.

Somehow my hips are getting wider as well I don't know the reason.
For all this I find it really neither pleases nor tires out.
Looking into that other face it was so confusing.
There you were with your stranger's eyes looking at my stranger's mouth.


Sometimes I get frightened I seem to hear my mother when I'm speaking.
At the cinema recently she almost talked to me from a mirror.
The way she held the soap suddenly I was struck by the feeling.
All those shitty years what a pointless waste they were.

Not to mention the man I live with in certain familiar intonations.
Our dog also reminds me a lot when it looks at me that way.
About my mother just now I wasn't exaggerating.
Mind you why I'm talking about all this stuff I can't say.

It was the last Christmas when I was still a child I got a kitten.
We lived next to a food store the busy road was snow-covered.
It saw me ran to me crossed the road in that instant.
How many times must I learn these things all over.

Prior to let's say a pebble a chestnut a tree leaf.
You'd answer that's exactly why and actually it could be.
A thing that I know as well and I who had seen it.
Nonsense I say I've become creation's keenest student.


Last year at the beginning of autumn when we first moved in to this house.
Nothing but dust paint everywhere nothing but thinner.
We hoped perhaps our breathing would change it chase the whiff out.
Then it got gradually cooler after that I can't remember.

Suddenly in the mornings we couldn't go out on the terrace.
You sat out with a coffee and started to get cold with your coat.
Off with your coat off try to settle in the empty places.
Somehow you sort things out you manage to fall on your feet.

Like some far-off season this light of today it's so unhomely.
It's like I'm somebody else or it's more like I'm elsewhere.
I went inside for a cardigan even though it's still only.
Not so much the colors it's more the quality of today's air.

To know it's not summer sketching itself but the face of autumn.
See that leaf a mouth-shaped rust patch silently stains it.
My little son stares from the past a baby-eyed kitten.
Still air's thin smoke signal I gaze at gaze at.


Acclaimed Hungarian poet Krisztina Tóth, born 1967, lives in Budapest. To date, she has published four collections. These translations originally appeared in the spring 2002 issue of the Hungarian Quarterly (Budapest).


English translation © 2002 by David Hill. Published by kind permission of Krisztina Tóth and David Hill.

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