Poems: Attila BALOGH


Note: With mention of a “televised war” and details of Balogh’s own personal, day-to-day trauma, these poems are eerily timely. It may serve the reader well to remember that these poems were written with a healthy dose of irony and sarcasm, launched through gritted teeth, but with lips smiling. Translations by Gabor Gyukics and Michael Castro, from Gypsy Drill (Neshui Press) ISBN 0931190-98-4



On the bird-spine sheltered meadow
the white coated ones are coming
stepping fawn skirt under the snow,
they come in the meadow that guards the tumbling of horses,
dragging wounded foal to a wheel stretcher,
I lie snowed against the belly of the field,
army of dew-whores roll
the green cannon balls of my loin,
among grass bayonets hiding in the fog,
my eyes gaze at the crushed belly of the bride
below the mumbling snow,
tanks rumble by,
under their bodies
the field is shattered buzzingly,
this is the end,
so what

it’s winter, it’s cold, it snows
gypsies lean over warm meat,
Ow! I wish not to eat here with them
because there are tiny oakums afloat in the soup

and hunkered, birdlike, my Lord,
I lie
before the hills of your knees,
help me write this poem,
to file the tiny pebbles
on this paper
help…hey, how beautifully black I am
again, and I must bow my head
to red birds in a woman’s lap,
and hide from here
my sorrowful black fingers
behind pine-tree skirts,
because it stinks in here,
like under the tongues of teenagers

and this homeland gentlemen,
and this homeland,
is a huge disgusting poem, only
I am only a poet
and not a citizen of the world,
I’d like to live where
I’m allowed
to smoke,
and now what shall I do
after I smoke this cigarette,

inside me nothing else but treason brightens
it’s near my heart in the corner
and emigration sparkles,
hey, it’s the best.

Numero XV

So, I’ll be a gypsy taunting Hungarian,
the quick panting of my sleeping pills
I gather into a giant breath,
and I cry up into the walls of Vienna
with full lungs
the death of Miklos Zrinyi.
So, I’ll be a day-laborer,
I’ll get a wheelbarrow
to carry the Hungarians of Don Bend home,
there might be a few dumb gypsies among them.
My father’s legs are still standing there at attention,
the salutes of paper-soled boots goad his ankles,
why isn’t he marching,
the sixty-year-old gypsy
who thought God would help him home from there
from the top of the bloody, flower-scented,
womanly woeful feeling, stale bacon tasting,
stale bread sounding, death proving hills,
who thought he could escape,
because they are wide,
like coffins for the dead,
until cigarette butts would shine in the
mouths of lonely soldiers.

His legs are not moving,
they stand there,
they are frozen landmarks
to tease the Russian winter.
He doesn’t know
who shot,
German or Russian,
he doesn’t know who he was with,
but it hurt badly,
he forgot how to play music.

So I’ll be a gypsy taunting Hungarian
because my father was a coward,
he couldn’t dance to the rhythms of the machine gun,
when its fast bullets
cajole blood from the human body.

So, he arrived
with a fresh hunger in his mouth,
he lies in bed sick,
the remaining energy of youth
is stolen from his body.
He lies there smiling,
where cold cures his forehead with icicles
because Hungary also has winter,
he murmurs.
Handshakes fall from his aged hand,
in vain I stretch my hand,
the freshly whitewashed wall raises its voice
for the color of his hair,
but I won’t give him up
even if he becomes whiter than a
rattling paper-scream in my fist,
even then I won’t,
yet he knows how long he lives.

So, I’ll be a gypsy taunting Hungarian,
because my father gets colder
from the bullet that lives in his body,
but he still rouses up
to see if his twenty-year-old son
is making any progress.

Numero XVI

Here I am
with my poems
with table-leg dash
forever standing;
the body can’t move
sickness offended it.

Here I am
to curse
fried potatoes bursting out of a crying mouth,
to steal
wood at the threshold of a heart attack,
for my mother to make fire,
today I have to limp the same way
I did last week,
here in the street that is loud
with the whispers of horses,
in the field that’s been raped
by my limping,
where one should only run—
You got tired mother,
I carry your cooking
in my teeth,
I’m growing old with you,
my crutch is also getting old slowly,
it’ll become a beggar-stick,
don’t let your son live on the bread of the state,
because he’ll attend beggar university,
but we are orphans now mother,
like used water,
the girls don’t like me,
don’t like the clumsy way
I swing my legs ahead
at a strange angle,
like displaced shoes
that house two feet by accident,
—I move like this nearly always—
But I must go,
here among semi-famous people;
they kill with armchair calm,
though I didn’t want a war,
here, where the cigarette and
the meat inflate in price,
here, where what is being published
is not art but artists,
here, where music is a shooting pain,
here I must win,
long live communism,
and my mother’s stockings won’t get torn,
long live world peace,
and my father’s violin won’t break,
long live everything that is fair,
everything that is saintly,
but don’t let me miss the tram
because it’s embarrassing
when everyone is staring at me,
and I don’t want the sun to shine through your skirt,
because your thighs are so beautiful and firm.

Numero XIII

Fire closed its eyes
because the wind
rocked it to sleep.
The girls are sleeping too,
though I haven’t brought them
the roses
that bloom at the ruined corners of the stars,
I haven’t stolen spring
from God’s garden,
to plant it in their hair.
I’ve stayed solitary—
like the vultures.

Numero XIV

Your hand is a five-branched star,
you are guarding light in your fist,
it can’t run away from the hollow of your hand.
Roses bloom
in both corners of your smile stealing lips.
Your hair was braided from night,
one-legged soldiers,
who come back every evening,
are your witnesses.
You are beautiful,
because my mother taught you to sing.

Numero XXXVI

In vain I embrace
the forehead of the foal
that bends over the consolation of streams
the women shivering through the cold of my bones,
orphaned masses walking the continent
sunk into battle
rolling cannonballs
against the flower-flu army of stiff meadows:
green papillas of little-girl heart attacks trundle
against swarming mercenaries of sword lilies
through the blood soaked meadow
of the little boy’s thrown pebbles,
and these people squat
behind those boots that squash everything
from the deer-bone loins of babies,
to caved laps of women,
citizens sit before the television-war,
and the administrative-peace,
in this shotgun shacked
narrowed homeland
and people squat down to shit
in the middle of the battle,
children play Indians,
but to starve, they do not wish,
and me, I hide quietly,
I twirl
in my ill-lunged bird coughing,
with this nation buried in my eye socket,
and it’s good in here,
and it’s nice in here,
I live on being alive,
but to dream, I must not,
because true it’ll become.

Numero XXXIV

So, it starts,
the lungs,
shoving the air,
breathe blood to my lips,
cajole poems to my fingers,
when the page’s white belly shies away,
then too,
because one must live here,
survive the small coughs
of the word,
the coward truth
of the bone
when it cracks toward the powers,
to my heart,
but it doesn’t hurt
the lily-fainting sways to my eyes,
the flower,
the bending of the backbone in the wind,
the droning penny-stampede from my forehead,
that geometrical awkwardness
elevating my tiny bones
and poking the heart of the universe
with its tip,
because it must twinge here,
a pain beyond times,
shoot today’s anguish
inside the loin of the future,
but nothing hurts me any more,
because I can’t heal either,
I sit here in the dark,
leaning against a star,
women, like men,
snore around me,
I pant and breathe too,
like lungs
I beg for dreams only,
I beg for a tablet—
Biographical Note: Attila Balogh (b. 1956) is a member of the Hungarian Journalist’s Association, the Hungarian PEN Club, and the Hungarian Creative Artist’s Association. He has published poems in more than fifty Hungarian magazines and anthologies since the age of fourteen. He attended Eotvos Lorand University and the University of Theology. He has published five books: Lenditem Labamat (Swinging My Limbs, 1980), Versek (Poems, 1990), Jozsef Attila a Peepshowban (Attila Jozsef at the Peepshow, 1998), Egy Velemenyen (Same Opinion, prose, 2004), Ciganyfuro (Gypsy Drill, 2005). Attila Balogh is an activist and spokesperson for Gypsy culture in Hungary, participating in many conferences and educational programs, and serving as editor for the magazines Phralipe and Amaro Drom. He has been the recipient of Hungary’s Merit Award (1980) and the Tolerance Award (1997). In 2005 Balogh was awarded the Attila Jozsef Alternative Prize.