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A Headboard to Headboards

ISSUE:  Spring 1986

translated from the Hungarian by Jascha Kessler with
Maria Körösy

Branyiszko: a mountain and the name of a pass in the easternmost range of the Carpathians. In 1849, the rebels defended the pass and were trapped there in the Battle of Branyiszko, where they were defeated and perished.

On flower-lathered, green horses:
on the gravesigns of gravemounds, gravestones,
strange, heroic idols ride,
loyal horsemen standing in the stirrups.
Below the hoop of the sky and in my head,
where are those many, helmeted, veiled, ornate figures
driving to, and where do they arrive?
As if they’re hauling this flickering star of mud,
this global human circus,
as if elsewhere there might be some
hope, in some other magnetic belt,
as if what is not here were there.
Every space in the world is furnished
with fire and ice, but not with what’s needed.
Where is it, if not in making-believe,
where, you headboarded hosts of graveyards?
It’s a shame, a shame, you gallop
all weaponless, faith and saga in rags,
round your sidereal orbit into the
streaming arrows of radiation, into the armies
of frost, to crash, and collapse.
My skull’s listening: fiber parts from fiber
and your globe-heads split,
your tulip-heads, rose- and star-peaks
fall, and your hearts, worn outside,
are torn—woe to you, naifs!
You don’t flourish star-cloaks,
your train is memory and fine superstition:
how much blood, how many weddings, vintages,
master’s whipping-posts, rope’s blue welts,
master’s spittle, but, radiating neatness,
miracle and invention, how much black
and white mourning you tow through
the tolling of time, how many weeping miseries,
swooning spouses, how much darkness of death
embroidered with candlelight,
that stubborn, enthusiastic, man-evoking, peacock-eyed
flame—and how many gifts shine and rot
while your green horses ride on, but still,
hurrah for fine superstition!
To those believed yet living, the living
bring whatever they were so fond of:
a toy, candy, a doll, a jelly apple,
the best cut, fine wine, it’s not rude to take a sip,
and it’s mannerly to wear a silk ribbon,
a wedding shirt in the snow, and, even if it’s freezing,
my shoulder doesn’t shiver, nor does my chiseled
rope of an eyebrow—fainting into lovely
superstition I change, persecuted, an ax-carved,
oaktree-lad, coal-black boots burned on me by flame,
dark complexion smeared on me with vinegared
iron-dust, mirror-brightened by bull’s liver. . . .
A headboard to headboards, I gallop along
with your good army, a flagstaff
bored into my pate, its banner snowy cambric,
and words poured over my chest in red wine,
fish-scale cash silvering my steed’s breast,
I ride for what’s missing,
making believe, never scared,
though wounded, punctured
with butterfly-hatching cracks, toting
a swan’s egg of snow in a hollow,
faithful to myself, though I’m mossy
on my north side, and faded on the south.

Leaving behind my acids, my salts, my lovely shoulder;
aching humanly:
for my share, for the best of me, riding
mutilated through this world that’s weeping with
that was meant to be whole.

László Nagy

translated from the Hungarian by Jascha Kessler with Maria


When he left, my father asked us what we wanted.
My sisters wanted dresses, lace, ribbons.
I asked for a spool
of thread so fine it turned silver in the rain,
or a rose that would open and, when
the petals fell, feel like time on my hand.
The gift had a price. I was taken far
away to a house hedged with roses. For days,
the scent sickened
me: too sweet, too full
of the future. I arranged ivy in a vase
and folded my soft sashes. I watched
in my square mirror events
in another part of the world:

there was my father at the edge of a field;
he might have been weeping
or looking for rain in the sky. And, there, my sisters
calling their children; my brother sailing
home, schools of perch swimming through his face.
The man of the house was inscrutable.
One morning I found a yellow scarf
at the foot of the bed,
a bar of sunlight. I saw him
only in shadows, after supper. He smelled
of the wind. He asked me never to leave.
His hands in a pair of dove-gray gloves touched
the moon in a window,
then touched my face. He let me go,

with conditions: I had seven days.
And what days! On the seventh morning,
I heard my sisters’ bright chatter,
my nephews stirring in their beds,
my father whistling from the porch;
I found a bunch of violets
left by a boy with rough hands.
Later, I would understand how love often takes
the form of a promise almost broken
and that what happened happened because,
instead of a gift, I asked for a symbol.
We married. One of us
had changed. Now I have a child and in my garden
the memory of a dozen summers.


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