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Zita Izso: a poem

Photograph by Laura Veres

Like Mouthbrooders

What I remember best is the snow.

We were elbowing on the ledge,

watching the never-ending white,

when the soldiers sprang the door.

I barely had time

to drag my little sister to the pantry.

While hiding there,

every breath hurt

as if I were prodded with bayonets.

I was scared it would become possible

to reach into the gaps of my ribs at the jabbing spots.

Then it finished, all of it.

We are found, my sister starts screaming,

I close my eyes

so I can't see what happens to her.

We are said to hear God's voice

when we need it most.

But you might not be able to talk, Lord,

because you carry us not on your palm

but in your gob

like mouthbrooders.

I'm tumbled into the garden

and my legs are strained apart.

They cram snow amongst my lips;

they can't stand my odd, elongated squeal.

I don't recognise it right then as mine,

I think it's a helpless rodent

stuck between the seal and the roof

that slogs himself into the wooden overlay as many times

as it takes to smash his head and die.

When they stuff snow in my mouth, I realise

it's my voice, from inside.

The snow is melting in my mouth, nice and slow,

it melts sullenly in my throat.

It tastes exactly like

when my sister and I shot out our tongues

during snowfall,

though, since the war started,

nothing tastes the same:

mother's soup,

nene's baked apples,

nana's sponge cake.

But the taste of snow stays the same.

Mum said God is not carrying us

in his mouth but on his palm.

I'm lying on the ground, it's cold,

Lord, I'm thinking of the warmth of your palm.

When they finish, they stand up,

mute. Not a word.

The mountains are piercing the sky

like the teeth of someone dampening a howl.

Translated by Agnes Marton

Zita Izso is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Zsigmond Móricz Literary Grant, the Mihály Babits Literary Translator Grant and the NKA Arts Grant. She published her third poetry collection in 2018 under the title Éjszakai földet érés (Nighttime Landing).


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