János Térey was born in Debrecen in 1970, and graduated in Hungarian Literature and Linguistics from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest in 1996. In 1997–98 he worked as editor for Cosmopolitan, ever since he has been a freelance writer. He has twelve volumes to date, most of them poetry, with one volume of fiction and, lately, several verse novels and dramatic poems. Térey is arguably the most prolific and dynamic creative artist in Hungarian literature today. His energy and drive have repeatedly proved able to bring up to date and breathe new life into poetic genres that were forgotten and believed dead.
Warsaw Unvarnished /
Those who remain here, they shall be the Blessed Ones.
Those who are gone, they shall be named: Against-The-Grain.
Those who are locked in, they will fight their own campaign,
Tomorrow’s spoil goes to the exiles and their sons.
The distant scowlers, they are Against-The-Grains
It’s death and doom here. Eavesdroppers on monthly pay.
The mighty ones – Protectress and the Protégé –
Those chilled accomplices protect all that remains.
The dry-eyed couple is so free and innocent,
Their joy’s infectious, they are full of good intent.
They carry medicines, medications, good advice.
From now on they mustn’t roam the Lakeland’s misty slopes.
One is to die: the necessery sacrifice.
They drank no toast. They don’t expect pay-envelopes.
Litany: The Good Girl /
The good girl awakens in a draft,
Splashes water on herself, and is ready to serve.
The good girl’s roles are all common knowledge,
She asks for a light, then disappears.
The good girl is interested in all the surrounding legends
We don’t deserve.
She is zealous to invent, to discover,
The good girl doesn’t forgive me my past.
The good girl gets dressed in front of me
So I can see that she is not at all spotless.
She is more useful than I think:
She's at home in every neighborhood,
She takes me along on trips, exercising our misery,
She spits the same way I do, at every trashy spring.
The Poor People of Jesus /
You shivery women of the day! and you who
Rut like the synogogue’s cats!
You can't sulk anymore in your cozy nests,
A profane man comes for a visit in the evening.
You all seem to be good detectives,
Though you don’t have a clue who sent you
This slippery hangman,
This Sunday evening visitor.
Often he is only a soft social climber,
This time however he’s after your strength
He approaches you in a trench-coat,
And hangs around, selecting sesame seeds.
Your guards are sleeping: now he pounces on you all.
He insists on being seen, on his ancient right of hospitality,
And takes you from your lovers.
(Bad season, lukewarm chronicles of scandals
In every rustling evening paper.)
From among you, who will celebrate a mass for the young man,
For this Yankee, who stepped in front of you obnoxiously
And soon will fall by his own hand?
- in memoriam Dezső Termann –
Aleja Róż. Means as much as rose-ave.
An embassy district-street, short as a hare’s tale.
(I had a walk there even wide-awake, in october,
Ninetyfive.) The heart of the German colony
In dream-time. A playground subsiding among villas.
Plump Bavarian nurses with baby carriages. Watching
Them from behind a curtain. (House arrest? Am I just
Convalescing?) It is summer, that is for sure.
I’m enjoying dreamtime-july stock still.
The windless silence on the avenue.
Water level-forecast. Odours percolating up to
Our balcony from the ground-floor drugstore. Boredom
Of the dull season. I am benign and dumb. In the kitchen
My lover is humming: Dominika. For lunch
We have beef-stew with dill sauce, hooray.
(Thank’God, dream. It is not a problem, that our affiliation
Is unclear. Not an acquaintance from Berlin, not at all.
D’s father is not the principal architect of the Warsaw-district,
And neither am I a womanizer Untersturmführer.
I could be a runaway boy from Krochmalna
Street, hidden by his imperial sweetheart.
Let’s not be. Long live the productive obscurity.)
Let’s have a coffee machine clucking. Let’s light a cigarette
Greedily and happily. „You are an air-polluting nuisance.
I am still going to sleep here.” Let’s have that woman
Scolding me. Let’s have the Sound of the Empire
At the time of relaxation. The opus of the week is
Beethoven: String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 74.
Let’s hear the megaphone of the Vistula-beach.
Let’s have Dominika – in a disappointing pose – snoozing
On the couch. Let’s browse some papers brought
Up in the morning, drinking beer.
We would have the saturday night power-struggle
Before us. We would leave Dominika’s Adler Junior
On the avenue, the woman would be a weekend-reveller.
The question would of course be the scene of the debauchery.
Negligent shrugs… Into Adria? Where Jan Kryst was shooting?
Not there. I would know a basement dance-hall,
Open not long ago, a land conquerable by a walk-around.
(An atmosphere of intoxication, extra charge with music;
Teahouse and salad bar for youngsters…„Hurry up, pal”,
I am urging the man in the dream awake.)
The rose-ave, about four in the morning,
I am licking and sucking Dominika’s breasts.
„I am watching you growing old here.”
Another dream, the night of that same day.
A well-fleshed fellow wearing glasses
Is telling me that at some party. I am sprawling
On the sofa without a word, like a greenhorn.
An ideal subject to be bugged.
I am dragging in my lover from the terrace,
Quickly forcing her out of the flat:
„This place was too pastel. Let’s penetrate
Deeper. Let’s get up to our ears into the ground.”
I’d be crazy to settle where
Famine is the ruler:
I won’t have my home on the Porch of Hell.
Should I, a young man be the officer on duty over there?
To watch over the land in such a dry,
Obstinate cold? – Only when the sun goes frozen.
I wouldn’t be able to leave from there.
I’d be tasting the wine of the region of the Porch of Hell.
There’d be no one to talk to. I’d abuse
the bad wine myself, and the walls would have ears.
Someone would hit my stomach, ouch,
Sudden, ruthless assault
– „Learn decency, good brother!” –,
I’d try to ward off the blows
And my bare hands would grasp the air.
Don't make me have my home on the Porch of Hell –
I prayed before the light turned dark.
In my dream I’ve got a visitor, my brother, Prince Sure Enough.
Jumping on my chest, he called me three times:
„Old boy, old boy! If you only knew,
What I’ve been at your age.
Man and bourgeois, father and civilian.
I stood among the living smiling.
I’ve got tenants, I've called them nicely: all mine."
„Old boy, you’re alone, like my finger.
Previously convicted, and your newest conviction is pestilence.
You’ve got time, still you ran out.
You’re beyond yourself lying in a basement-deep hollow.”
„Old boy, I’ll get rid of you. I'll take
The food out of your mouth and the dream out of your mind.
You wouldn’t stay on Earth no more.
You'll get ready to move to the Porch of Hell,
Only when the sun goes frozen, when you’ll be crazy.
Last night it was freezing, you weren’t out on the street,
You kept yourself awake with me, you righteous fool.”
It is bright now, No longer I can see my brother,
Prince Sure Enough. Every sound is familiar, homely.
When a mortal awakens, he is forced to live.
Midday bell tolls, takes me away from home:
I have time to spare and space to walk.
Diamond Shaft /
When the diamond shaft became distorted,
The damaged engine went on, unconcerned.
It carried on erratically and squeaking.
While leading experts oiled it as it turned.
I was among them, it was force of
Habit that guided me close to the fire.
A mitigating circumstance: I was an
When the evil system will soon begin to crack
There won’t be much that is worth salvaging.
The rear-guard will be sacrificed, stuck in a ravine,
The rest will sleep beneath a gloomy star.
I, having seared with all of them, so far,
I can escape still, on the last machine.
Sonja’s Journey from the Saxonia Cinema to Pirna Square /
Statistics are not available.
We shall never know the number who made love
In Dresden that night.
Who, in what positions, what bedrooms?
The air-raid warning was shrill, no doubt,
But those bodies stayed together,
They pressed upwards, towards the sky,
Somewhere only halfway
Along the winding road.
Many wouldn’t draw apart even then.
Sonja Dressler and Veronika Möhring, for instance.
Sonja, a refugee from Breslau,
Shop assistant, sixteen years old,
Arrived here in town on Mardi Gras.
Glitter showers into her face, confetti down her neck.
It’s carnival time for children everywhere,
They stretch paper streamers across the road
And respond with noisy jubilation
When a passing tram breaks
Their sky blue finishing tape.
Sonja, to find some quiet, goes to
An average price cimena,
The Saxonia in Anna Street.
The seat next to her is taken by
Veronika Möhring, probably over thirty,
A war-widow by profession.
Already during the trailers, the palm of her hand,
Clings tight on to Sonja’s very shapely thigh.
Sonja gives a little shriek, but falls silent
At once, her neighbour is an expert predator,
Her search has reached her height of Sonja’s garters
But it will not settle there either.
She offered her sweet little inside and her tits
– Veronika ponders after the film
In a coffee-bar by the Post Office –,
But kissing was out of the question
In a public place.
„I’m not ready” – Sonja says.
„And anyhow, I haven’t got that.”
„Nonsense, my dearest.
I think you have that all the time.”
Veronika is happy, she has
The simple girl in her power. She thinks
That the simplicity, when it is not
The condition of the mind, but
The state of her heart, is a sure sign
Of the bloom of inexperience.
„Do you have somewhere to sleep? You don’t?
Perhaps she has never had a man,
Let alone a woman-lover.
Veronika’s windows look out on Pirna Square.
Normally the neon lights
Of the Commerzbank would shine beneath them,
But now, of course, there is a blackout.
This is that attractive house with the dome.
Sonja remembers seeing it as a little girl.
No time, not even to gulp down
The brandy that the hostess
Poured out into the heavy glasses.
Veronika proves to be highly accomplished
In the heart of „circular excitation”.
She scrolls the letters of the alphabet
On Sonja’s clitoris with her tongue,
Carefully, one after the other.
The next one would be M but the sirens
Begin their jagged, unmistakable shriek.
Veronika lies dead straight in the bed,
Her lean, sinewy body is tight,
She reminds Sonja of some insect,
More precisely of a praying mantis.
The insect of Lesbos keeps humming,
This is what it hums into Sonja’s ear:
„We should make love in the innards
Of the powder-keg, on this
Iron bed-stead, here in Pirna Square,
I want to do it in alphabetical order,
And in conclusion I would draw a Y and a Z.”
The Circus /
I hate the circus. Perhaps, because it was
My father who introduced me to it many years ago;
He took me to Sarrasani’s the first time
And having won a competition, he christened
One of their Bengal cubs.
Ah, to fondle the product of the secret art
Of the circus. Proper expertise.
My father did not lead a fortunate life.
He tried to teach me to cycle, to swim but failed in both cases.
In fact, I never mastered these operations, not even later.
That was why the Sarrasani Circus did not appeal
As evening entertainment. Neither on my own,
Nor with another boy. Though the ring used to be here,
On the other side of Carola Square.
I knew those above us were ready to kill.
I survived the first wave of attacks in the cellar;
After that there was no home to return to.
I cried, like someone whose house is on fire,
And as it happens our house did burn down.
That night the menace encroached on our territory
But only once did it get too close.
The bush in the park where I fled
Suddenly started to move, and there it stood
Before me: the tiger.
I almost messed my pants, since it was the one
Whose godfather was my father. Would it help
At all if I knew its name?
It was the hour of the second attack.
It snuggled up to me, trembling,
Allowing itself to be fondled. Poor thing
It was more frightened than I was. By Wednesday morning
The populous menagerie of the Sarrasani Circus
Had broken loose. The tiger,
Along with the residents of Carola Square,
We’d all been bombed out.
Who will look after you, anonymous
Creature? Jesus, you’ve grown so enormous.
You are used to your life being carefully planned
By your competent tamers and carers,
And now you take shelter in human arms
From mortal danger and fear.
Damn the whole business, it was all I could do;
I abandoned the beautiful beast and
Carried on sleep-walking in a southerly direction.
I don’t know how, but at two in the morning I was
Standing beside the rail-line, with someone beside me;
A crazy engine-driver was standing there too. Am I drunk?
Or is he really crazy? It did not matter,
As without a word he yanked me
Into the locomotive. Without any carriages we drove out
Of the hall, although it was against the rules
During air-attacks. We left Strehlen behind, then within
A quarter of an hour the entire infernal scene.
I was amazed. It all felt so safe.
What Would Have Happened, If /
…There had been a different reel on the projector.
Say, of a postcard-town, like Prague or Graz,
Like heaven in Sunday-school picture books:
Spruced up, dense and ostentatious.
It would have no surprises in store, nothing to stun
Like the kick of a horse.
I would have walked through its galleries at the age of fifteen.
Later I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it.
Better reserve it for another time,
The way one reserves old bottles
For moments of celebration.
Something happened at last, something to talk about,
That’s my delicious excuse.
Dresden, the name, is only a cover. You will not find
Any town under it. Dresden does not exist.
One single cerebrum was enough to conceive the idea.
Sir Arthur Harris Air-Officer Commander-in-Chief
The Thunderclap air raid’s intellectual colossus
Chose a city which up until our story
Had endured only minor historic damage.
(It’s not true that none of the windows were broken.
It actually suffered unavoidable losses.)
Intimidation. The physical spectacle of air
Ascendancy; revenge for Coventry etc.
One Thunderclap will eradicate the remains of martial spirit
From the German nation.
A colossal rug will descend on Dresden
And impose its own pattern on the town.
As for Churchill, he disclaimed all responsibility,
What’s more, there was no mention of Thunderclap
In his victory speech.
Harris disgraced for the second time:
Amongst the successful Marshals, the only one not offered
A seat in the House of Lords.
Which – knowing the facts – seems a little unfair.
In Vág Street, Budapest, I quote,
Nonetheless, from Sir Arthur Harris.
I’ve opened a bottle of wine, although
I am not expecting guests. Note, Budapest was given up
To the Russians on the day Dresden was sent to hell.
It was Harris who persuaded me to tell you the story
This pretty chilly June.
My distinguished attention is all his tonight.
Canaletto’s Glimpse /
The town, intact, glimmers from afar,
Early morning, on the threshold of the tremor.
Patterned with hairline-cracks, unprepared
For the angel of the lord and his blazing sword.
The photographic mind records the sequence:
Someone, as usual, buys his sleeping pills from the chemist’s,
Walks out of Mary’s Pharmacy,
And gets into his car at the Old Market Square.
By the next morning, there is neither Pharmacy,
Nor car; the Old Market Square is gone.
Only the Dresden, who was kept awake that night,
The one who now looks around the deep, flattened ground.
The survivor will never confide.
He is sure what happened is irreparable.
Anyone who stubbornly insists on
A featureless corner house is regarded as nostalgic –
It wasn’t he who built it, it wasn’t even built in his
Lifetime, although the ruins buried his bric-a-brac.
The nostalgic one re-conquers the perimeter of a house
From the desert, digs down to the core of primal mass,
Collects shapeless boulders scorched black at one thousand
Five hundred Celsius and numbers them accurately.
Then inch by inch he re-fabricates every nook
In his garden just as it was,
Replaces stray pearls in their case and breathes life into them.
The result is a magnificent fraud.
A past-less forgery, barefaced,
Imitating its own original.
Someone with a bridegroom’s excitement
Stops at the right bank of the Elbe,
Exactly where Canaletto stretched his canvas:
Before his eyes, the only possible contour.
Funeral Oration for the Twins /
Since both Twins had collapsed before high noon,
And crushed foundations won’t support a wall,
Nor will the tower-womb shelter even one
Lost storey – phone-line, boardroom, terminal –
There’s space in the conquered sky, the gaze may run
Straight down two airwells marking the Twins’ fall.
Their rattled ribs reach for the deepening dusk
Like a serpent skeleton’s discarded husk.
The tower of capital cracks: its throat is slit;
The second with a chest wound starts to slide.
I watch the untouchables falling, bit by bit,
Rocked by sheer terror in their pomp and pride.
Glass-curtains cascade down, their slivers split;
Once landscape changes, tourists need a guide.
And if one morning the Twins are just not there,
It’s only a taster, the first seeds of despair.
Ground Zero is the place where I may clear
Unsettled debts that fund my quirkiness –
My dream came true: the landscape should appear
Wickedly redrawn: a board for chess,
Recalling relics of earlier sites of fear:
Wrecks tangible in ordinariness.
What’s shocking is the singularity:
No previous patterns fit reality.
(Now I recall my near-Cassandra vein:
Playing with fire, in vatic delirium,
I wrap up brother Paul in a silvery skein
And blow my concrete twin to kingdom come
Leaving a skeleton, a twisted frame…)
Burning Manhattan models for the sum
Of all bad-blood; it is the climax where
The worst can realize their bleak nightmare.
He who grabs his opponent by the hip
And floors him, cries out to the heavenly host
But lacks power to wreck human workmanship.
Heaven is a region where such power is lost.
The streets that I walked men rake over and strip
To seek the dead elite, first at their post.
Credo quia absurdum. Wherever I now belong
I saw New York but left the town unsung.
The Mirrors of Milton /
If my two eyes, two globes of pain
Should of a sudden their socket forsake,
My life will lose their witness plain;
And these I-witnesses once gone,
I'll keep that moment ever in mind
When serving me they laughed unblind.
“Daylong you hold a mirror frail,
Yet cease to show the golden age
Should blind spots cling to your surface shale.”
Red-hot cataract binds the green glass;
The mirrors go blind, out in the light,
As the new day’s sun flick-flashes across.
In stealth, like the plague, the sun breaks out
New, the familiar planet’s magma pours
Tomorrow on the mirrors’ prone contours.
O the flaring of the aery sky! A new day!
In anger and blood and in ever-new danger
The two sad globes see all the display.
“O you blessed myriad parts, all teeming
So your wholesome image may take
Shape in the kaleidoscope of dreaming!”
What torchèd angel hellward lights my way?
What fire is it I bathe in?… No more will my
Life catch fire than will the naked eye.
I was James Ensor’s sponsor, I supported the noble throning /
Christ once drew into Brussels,
But Brussels has since withdrawn from Christ:
Their cohabitation proved unhappy.
The carnival has come to an end.
While Death pursues
My Belgian heart is torn asunder, two countries.
The fairy tale lads set off
To discover the world, to learn to fear;
Then they found themselves
In an unfamiliar apartment, hungover,
didn’t know the name of the neighborhood,
much less the sunlit street.
In Siegfried’s torn heart
A refined sort of masochism,
German twinges of conscience.
But nothing breaks his springtime mood
Strolls to the end of his marked path: “World-building instinct!
All for a throne and a few women.”
The cold art of the fugue,
Repeating ritual rules over all:
Jubilee biting its own tail!
The name, if it has spread
Across the earth, will be infinite,
Latin tongues chatter it,
Slavic women with the Sphinx smiles call it by pet names,
The marketplace never tires of proclaiming its beauty.
The veto falls silent on the lips of Benedict the umpteenth,
Like the Via Veneto, so elegant
The last cardinal on earth to give confession.
“Reverendissime, but do you hear
The song of the coming Bethlehem?”
Parallel Torah, Koran,
Koran and Torah!
The scrolls were burned, but the letters journeyed on,
And their power abides.
Our Lord declaims from above:
“Let me never again see a realm
Where the prophet is silenced by profit,
And there are more case files than Souls!”
God could take a random sample anywhere:
Little in the way of hope for growth
According to the house rules of salvation.
So many lions, prepared to spring!
My companions, so many sweet masquerades,
charming, withered phantoms, old bones, disappointed champions!
An ever-more refined art of battle reaps its harvest.
Sybil’s prophecy written on a tree leaf,
Drifting, lost, through space:
“The floodwaters are welling,
And Holland suddenly will be gone,
And Manhattan, Dubai, Venice,
They will send forth refuges like Atlantis…
But there is more. Pay attention:
Those whom you never suspected, cheat,
And you strike those you never aimed at.”
The greenery burgeons, girls breasts grow firm,
Above Switzerland minaret needles prick the firmament…
The fields throng with people, the wild terraces,
Trans-Atlantic freedom, but no consensus,
For everywhere the same shadow leaves its mark on you,
Your saudade accompanies you from land to land.
The carnival has ended. While
Death pursues sorrowful Brussels,
My Belgian heart is torn asunder, two countries.
The masks have vanished, the show has waned,
You too will come, when
Two bodies and souls parting in dance
Like two Koreas are again united.
The greenery burgeons, has nothing else to do, the green.
Since the beginning of my end
I have listened to its heaven-striking anthem.
My homeland has survived the winter: moribund Europe.
Hungarian Bride /
Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.
Miss Ambivalence, dear!
We write to each other, keeping
Twin diaries: the sharp echo
Of each other’s voices ring in our ears;
Should there be no echo, only noise
We’d miss each other terribly
In the meantime I hide from you
Until it’s clear I have no alternative
But to live with you. Till then
I will avoid you, and yes,
I manage brilliantly in other people’s gardens.
With anyone, in fact, except you.
Proximity burns us out; each love-bomb
Means total destruction.”
Miss Zerotolerance, dear,
Once more I twist the blade
In your heart: for days on end
You don’t hear from me!.. I spend the bright
morning polishing the window
until I can see my reflection in it.”
The more she stands up to me,
The more human she becomes,
So much the greater she is.
I could weep thinking how much
She has earned her right to pleasure
I torture her at her own request, so that I may be tortured.
She tortures me, so that she may be tortured
Since that is her exquisite pleasure.
Hungarian woman, how thoroughly
She has deserved all that torture!
I’ll make her fall in love with me
To torture her yet more exquisitely.
In the box, on the stairs /
Mrs Falvai, on her own admission, last went to the Music Academy for the last time in her life in November 1957, when a Bulgarian choir was appearing. She was on her own. She looked around the vestibule, hung around on the stairs. She did not come across a single acquaintance. The choir was already in full swing when Mrs Falvai noticed that the former Party secretary and his wife were seated in one of the boxes on the left. The politician was drawn back into the darkness of the box, whereas his wife, her elbows resting on the plush velvet cushion of the balustrade, was primly enjoying the program. At one point, the wife lowered her opera glass to her lap and sought to make eye contact with Mrs Falvai. The glance that she cast was highly assertive, almost as if she were winking, and Mrs Falvai snatched her own gaze away. Directly before the interval, when the tastefully picked nosegay of folk song arrangements came to a close, she could have sworn that the conductor as he straightened up from his bow was looking straight at her, and nodded at her with a cool smile. Was there some secret that they shared? Most likely she was being confused with the one-time prime minister, who was a man, it was true, but his skull undoubtedly bore a resemblance to the shape of Mrs Falvai’s own head. True, their hairstyles were different. In the interval she drank an espresso and cautiously studied the pattern on the carpet and then faces of the people there. She sensed that she was ringed about by an uncommon love, as though she really were the prime minister. It felt good being in the skin of a man whom she respected, loved even, to that day. It was during the second block of arrangements, when an activist song was being delivered, that it dawned on her. The chorus master was identical to the interior minister, who had been executed by that very same prime minister and the very same secretary. That would mean that the interior minister had been resurrected from the dead, had forgiven those who had sinned against him and started a new life on the concert podium. She must report it to the authorities. When she bowed her head towards the first secretary and his wife as they left the building, it occurred to her that officially neither of them could be in Hungary now as both had been exiled. And as for that prime minister – he too. If they had come back home, then, they had come back illegally. Mrs Falvai hesitated over what she should do. She would go back into the hall to look for her purse. Check whether there were any boxes at all there. She could not tell by whom she was ringed, and what sort of love.Translated by Tim Wilkinson
The Inconsolable /
In Chile, the shooting of The Inconsolable, the forthcoming film about Jimmy Blonde, is in full swing, although the shooting itself can hardly be said to be a smooth ride. Still, some of the locals, to put it delicately, are hardly enraptured by the fact that the filming is taking place in their district, and even less so by the commotion caused by the entire thing. The latest unpleasant obstructions were, however, thanks to the mayor of Sierra Madre himself. Jesús López had had enough of the fact that, because of the action scenes, no one on the locations had any peace and quiet, so that, hopping mad, he sat down in his metallic-blue Honda and smashed straight into the middle of a fusillade-laden scene. He then claimed that Blonde, played by Danny Curtis, lost his head seeing the car and ran from the scene, stepping briskly over to the catering van.
“I wanted to protect the people and their basic right to freedom” – reported López, because of whom the filming had to be stopped; he therefore partially reached his goal; the reward for his heroic deed, however, was that within minutes, he was taken into custody and shackled in handcuffs by the police. After a detention of five hours, the mayor was released. “Children cannot play in peace and quiet in the gardens of their own parents. Those people who were listening to loud music near the location were subjected to strict fines. The police appear in our homes to tell us that we have to be respectful of the filming, that we have to leave the film crew in peace; we must allow them to work undisturbed.”
Similarly, the coarseness with which the film crew treated a fisherman’s house called forth much dissatisfaction and complaint. The eighty-year-old man one day returned home only to find that his dwelling had been repainted, as it did not fit into the street-scene as conceived by the film people. What’s more, they told him: you must leave the building until six a.m. the next morning; but if you really don’t want any trouble, don’t put your foot anywhere in the neighborhood before six. After that, the fisherman could return to his home, but as he said, he was never again able to sleep in his own bed as before.Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
Apartment with Two Skulls /
David and Gemma followed the estate agent down the corridor. “A special bargain” announced the lad, and opened the door. They stepped into a ground-floor apartment, then walked all around the wide terrace. “Two skulls”, said the agent. “What happened here?” asked Gemma excitedly. “Break-in and murder, five quick stabs of the knife”, answered the agent. David was satisfied, Gemma still hesitated.
“It was much more brutal in the apartment next door. Unfortunately, it’s already sold”, said the agent. Not too long ago, a suicidal resident jumped from the fiftieth floor onto the terrace, previously he’d been the spokesperson of an organization, then the lover of an actress in a TV series. When his body, clad in a suit, came crashing down, it was pulverized on the cream-coloured flagstones. The tenants, who woke up to the sound of the shattering glass, were in shock and immediately moved out of the flat. The owner rapidly found a European, whom the horrifying incident hardly dissuaged from buying an otherwise pleasing and nicely sunlit apartment.
In Hong Kong, these council properties are known as “the houses of the damned”. The target group of the “houses of the damned” is made up of Europeans who, in contrast with the majority of the locals, rarely believe in house-haunting spirits. The Western tenant is much less disturbed by the fact that a corpse, slippery from the blood of suicide, once lay in the flower box of his posh flat. Included among the immune are Christians, only moderately inclined to superstition, as well as those who work in the health sector, who have more or less grown used to death. Gemma was a receptionist, David a laryngologist. They took up the offer.
“You know, sir, this classification system exists” – the agent, who explicitly specialized in such properties, explained to his next prospect. “In the highest category are those flats in which the most cruelly violent acts have been committed – we designate these with four skulls. For example, the flat where a little girl was brutally murdered and cut up into pieces. The classification of one skull means that a fatal accident occurred in the apartment. The rental fee will be at least twenty percent lower than that for a rental of similar quality in which no unnatural death happened to occur. If between the walls of the flat a murder or suicide has taken place, the price may be up to forty percent less than the market average. A final denouement in which there is no blood, by this logic, does not deserve a skull. There is no piquancy, it is true, so there is no reduction in price, sir.”Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
Climate History /
The climate historian deals with the seasons of crisis.
During that time, it was forty degrees Celsius in the summer.
As the rain ran across the pillars of rough concrete.
In July, the entire horizon was opal.
The secure point of the watered-down embankment was the weighty bollard.
Metal struck metal, open port.
In the dead silence, the sluice opened with dignity.
Like a kind of entrance to the underworld.
A dead industry conjured into life again.
Then the pleasure-boat ran into the brick-red trough.
The sensation of being wedged in did not vex even one traveler.
Although the route was planned to the island of the dead.
The boat had light planking; little girls in cotton-red.
They lay low in the hull of an apartment-block-sized ocean liner.
The age became manifest, the new architecture.
The color of the decorative strips on the office-block, the pink, the magenta.
The gap-toothed allotments disappeared, like the reverberations of a crime.
Secretive little nooks along the Alster, pleasant contemplation.
To see in the distance the designated winter resting place of the willowy swan.
Tiny corners to hide away in.
On the way home, the peacockery of the distinguished Chilehaus.
The definitive structure on the simple allotment.
So then, some kind of organizing principle is certainly valid.
But no single teleology exists.
The euphonic life, the confectioners all in a row.
A cross-section which unfolds from the cabin portholes.Translated by Ottilie Mulzet
Interview with Anthea /
Severe, brown-eyed beauty,
Like Parmigianino’s Anthea,
A ferret slips from her shoulder,
She lets it run off. Her voice is hard.
Go ahead, ask, she says. She has time for me.
“How was your weekend, madam?”
We parked the car deep in the intestines
Of the enormous ferry. Then off to Ischia.
It was pouring by the time we docked at the harbour,
Great bucketfuls of rain, a proper
Full day’s drenching. On board we were
Like two businessmen travelling
In tandem, later like two disappointed
Honeymooners. If a bay is
Even vaguely round, we suspect
It must have been a crater in the past
Like this, a crater left by one of the hotter
Meteors; the jetty, like the lighthouse,
Constructed from the deposit of andesite.
A dirty boy on the beach
Screamed in our ears: Moneta, moneta.”
“And what is the principle on which the planet works?”
– It moves, subject to the elements
or to the staff manning the elements on earth,
Which is, after all, much the same thing.
A golden age of self-love builds the villa,
Raises the flood barriers;
There’s an earthquake every fifty years
On the average. So what?...
“And what did you like most about the island?”
Anthea smoothes the creases on her dress.
– The musical rocking-horse in the harbour!
The same child could have three rides
For the money we paid,
We couldn’t get enough of him.
I also liked the infinite, bottomless sadness,
And that the sparkling water was called Lethe.
The men in those parts are not especially handsome,
But one tourist looked quite pretty
With his eagle-nose and legionary face:
I liked the Arab family in the corner
Bursting with health, wading through
The ankle-deep rain. The night’s anthracite. –
“And where do you most enjoy yourself?”
I like The Lifestyle Museum best:
Its walls are Pompeiian red, like all
The grander buildings we have back home.
My husband’s voice, each word,
Was dripping honey
On the Saturdays we went there,
Just he and I at such times –
Like two joined silhouettes.
“And what is your favourite game?”
Anthea grips her left hand glove
In her gloved right hand.
– Mine is the game called Hell is Other People,
Otherwise known as The Love
Accumulator. One never grows bored of it,
And luckily no blood involved. We like it. –
“Would you prefer to have a boy or a girl, Anthea?”
I want a big-assed girl with a Madonna look.
She should be blue-eyed like my husband;
We’d dress her grown-up, she’d get used to satin;
Her blonde hair would look good with a pink top.
She’d walk the street in a gingham skirt,
Her breasts already developing, although
She ‘d still be carrying her teddy bear.
“And how do you feel after your divorce?”
I’m suffering from a sort of dry-land sickness.
I sleep much worse now there are no more
Crossings. I throw away my post
Unread. And no end of problems.
My doctor tells me I am missing
The flow of open debate. -
“And what has happened over there since then?”
I imagine the island must be emptier.
I imagine the villa will be silent now we’ve gone,
The tea-coloured bulb of the table lamp will have gone out.
I imagine the grass we sat on has grown straight again.
The cones of the bougainvillea will be blossoming
As before. That’s how it goes. Everything else blossoms.
“And how will you prepare for the winter, Anthea?”
Her hair tumbles from its thick braid.
„I shall put on Christ, I’ll clothe myself with him.”