by István Baka

Translated by Peter Zollman

ISTVÁN BAKA (1948-1995) poet, translator and editor. Szeged the most important city in South Hungary considers him as their own poet.* He is well known for his achievements in renewing modern poetical imagery and rôle playing poetry. He often identified himself with well known figures of European mythology and also assumed newly created personalities. During his tragically short life he received, among many others, the Robert Graves.



A little schoolboy hurries through the park,
a see-saw shivers in the evening squall,
a tattered raincoat rustles in the dark,
the moon - pawnbroker's ball - threatens to fall.

Along the plinth below the monument,
like feathers fallen from an angel's wing,
the candles tremble. Grey park, stone, cement,
steel-plated skies dishearten everything.

Like peeling city posters left to rot,
the terror has a smell of glue and wet,
I cross the autumn playground at a trot
with chestnuts in my pocket. I am eight.



My earliest strait-jacket was the womb
and though today I am seemingly free
the Universe is still an oversize
department of a mental ward to me

I banged therefore the walls but all in vain
I cried out of the depths but since the Lord
is just a chronic gasping of the soul
that's all there is: this gasping and the ward

I tap-tap but the Morse reply is faint
I try to understand it but I fail
is it a man or angel or an inmate
perhaps a secret warder in this jail

gagged by the white cloths of the day I'm stopped
from bellowing that even nothingness
has vanished into nothing and that even
this nothing is becoming less and less



for Gyõzõ Határ

This is one-week land one-week revolutions
and one-week love affairs we are a state
of throw-away cheap hankies into which
more favoured countries blow the foul pollutions
that dainty Europe has to dissipate
and even what's for sale they ought to ditch

In one-week-land no guarantees apply
for they are crushed by caterpillar tracks
or chewed up by a caterpillar worm
to nest her eggs there till a butterfly
of fairy wings and dazzling ballet acts
is born for one week, her allotted term.
one week for faith but where are the believers
'be blessed or cursed here by the hand of fate'
which like a crooked moneychanger's hand
is stuffed with newsprint cut to look like fivers
among the good ones it will con you mate
so keep your eyes peeled or go down the pan
it's still your land but a stepmotherland*
don't die for it survive it if you can



Tristan I cannot go today because
A fever has attacked my little son
Our boy for almost surely he is yours
He cries and I must stay now dearest one

Tomorrow is Mark's customary night
He takes a bath and sprays expensive scents
Should I neglect my duty then he might
Have further doubts about my innocence

Next day we'll see the envoy of the king
Of Burgundy it's whispered that he bears
A matchless ruby as an offering
I must be careful with foreign affairs

In three days time we'll give a ball we must
Receive the Cornish aristocracy
- Those decked-out wives - then hiding my disgust
I'll take their homage with due courtesy

I cannot go I'm busy as you see
But heaven knows your wound torments me too
I'll fly to you as soon as I am free
And then my darling I will die with you.



As lepers when their features rot away
and just their tinkle-tankling bells remind them
that they are still alive and warn the others
the ordinary people in the street
to keep out of their way so are these poems:
the rhymes have slowly withered off the lines
the tinkle of iambics is the only
suggestion as to where they move about
shedding their flesh their decomposing words
and warning Time to keep out of their way

shall I go on about Philoctetes
about his wound that reeked to high Olympus
and brought infection to the shores of Lemnos
yet he the hero triumphed over Paris
the master of the bow that conquered Troy
the myth of reeking wounds and violence
originated with Philoctetes
to this day murdered gods are oozing red
upon the Pole Star's bloody butcher's hook
the heavens are a slaughter-house and blood
still trickles down the arrow-wound of Time

like lepers when their features rot away
these decomposing rhyme-denuded lines
still ring the rusted bell of old iambics
and cast their bags into the well of Time
contaminating thus the living water
and thirst-tormented hope recoils in fear
then rears up snorts and shyly shrinks away

shall I go on about Philoctetes?
his wound reminds us why all glory reeks
why leprous faces grin on every bowstring
why Paris dies and Troy is burnt to ashes
today and every day and why the myth
ripped from that womb-like pestilential wound
must grab a bow while still a little baby
and inflict a deadly wound on Time



For Tünde

Rise from the stone! My days are nearly gone;
I cannot wait much longer, all in vain.
Be ecstasy itself or else be pain, -
Be Galatea, anything, anyone!

The snail-moist sunrise smell of earthiness,
The wilting summer roses' drowsy scents,
The grapes of a mad vintage dalliance
And winter snows are perfumes you possess.

It makes no odds if I have sculpted you
Or you have shaped me with your hand so white,
We shall become flesh: you from a marble seam

And I from clay. Our worldly days are few,
No matter if I dreamt you up one night
Or you created me in such a dream,


To take me, and inside you let me see
How can the infinite possess the space
To wallow in this tight and steamy place
Where life is never maybe but to be,

And though the true one may fall in the mud
Your twin-Olympus bust will never wane...
Oh Galatea, carve me new again!
And marble-vein my body with your blood
And love me like his nymphs made love to Pan,
Or lick me like a lump of marzipan,
Absorb me in your passion through and through,

You grumpy loving sweet and lonely you;
I'll make you sit on top of me, abased -
But once or twice descend with me, to taste


The fever that was your creator too!
I'd tumble like a broken piece of clay,
Like rubbish on the heaps of yesterday,
Oh, flesh and marble, dearest love, for you.

I'd be a bone that Cronos chewed away,
The jilted phallus of a satyr boy
Who never found a naiad's well of joy
But sometimes you'd console him, anyway.

And who created whom? It's all the same.
I'd say: you did, to end the argument.
Who came first? altar or communicant?

Who cares? But I want you to catch my flame!
Trust me, I need so little. My concern
Is nothing but to burn, to burn, to burn.


  © All rights belong to the authors or their heirs. 2004.