Published in Issue 22.
Agnes Lehoczky is an Hungarian-born poet and translator who lives in Sheffield. She completed her Masters in English and Hungarian Literature at Pazmany Peter University of Hungary in 2001 and an MA with distinction in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2006. She holds a PhD in Critical and Creative Writing from the UEA. She has two short poetry collections in Hungarian, Station X (2000) and Medallion (2002), published by Universitas, Hungary. Her first full collection, Budapest to Babel, was published by Egg Box in 2008. She was the 2009 recipient of the Arthur Welton Poetry Award and the winner of the Daniil Pashkoff Prize 2010 in poetry. Her second poetry collection Rememberer was published in 2012, also by Egg Box Publishing. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Agnes Nemes Nagy Poetry the Geometry of Living Substance was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars. She wrote a libretto commissioned by Writers' Centre Norwich collaborating with Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2011 and The Voice Project. From September 2010 she is teaching creative writing on the Masters course at the University of Sheffield. She was selected as the winner of the Jane Martin Prize for Poetry 2011 of Girton College, Cambridge.
You can read more about Agnes’ work here.
Eight Poems from Siula Grande
White night 1
The forecast is for newer snowfalls. For another fading face, another forest to be erased with transparent ink from the landscape and then forgotten. The last thing you would want is to freeze thirty thousand feet above sea level. Above cloud-level. Magnolia trees flower more than once a year, they say, their new leaves, the sprouts, fluffy nestlings, puffy squabs. These oval sentences always give you hope. It’s another sharp manoeuvre into the altocumulus mackerel-sky as if sleep-hiking above Siula Grande. It’s just another rock-craft, snow-craft, mountaineering with a single ice-axe by yourself. The plane perforates a blizzard finally, an insomniac face dipped into a pile of pillows. But the main thing is to trust the pilot, and pilots from that country are renowned for their reliability, you mutter to yourself, when Brno crops up on the satellite, the old town’s parched monks spring out of a hip flask, one by one, twenty-four Capuchin cocoons, in your pocket, curling like talismans of friendship. You too, shut your eyes, mummification is your intention. Pass me a pillow of bricks, you whisper. To strip off your old skin like a winter coat. Venice on the navigation screen is a throbbing dot. Canals stink, your text reads: wait for me on Campo Ruga, it is the rim of the universe, remember. When you get there, the square is empty, snowed up. The washing’s blown away from the lines. The lines, which crisscrossed the sky from roof to roof, are now only vapour trails, flickering neon signs above the boarded up entrance of the bar from where you once counted terracotta chimneys and tight laundry ropes. You’d rather think of Brno for now, its mummified brothers lying in rows, clad in robes, draped with rosaries, clutching a compass, deep cracks and craters etched into their papery features although their snoring is near audible if you actually listened. There is a long and elastic queue for the bus, like an accordion panting in and out. A winter coat’s left sleeve lifts itself towards the altocumulus mackerel sky. Look, why do faces dissolve with the gloss of the glass? On buses and on trains and on trams. I breathe and because of that sudden puff, I wipe out the foliage of forests. I blow all the leaves off the magnolia tree. They scatter like black and brown Indian Runner Ducks in the snow. The North Wind creeps in and out through the nostrils. I pull my red suitcase after my shadow. You’ve now begun your descent, the airhostess hisses into my ears, a hysterical lullaby.
White night 2
But this descent into the dentist chair was vertical and I should have known by then when the dentist warned me the only way we would get through this was by concentrating on even breathing, she said; imagine it like snow, cascading through the nose, holding the back of my head tight waiting for me to breathe in and out, then in and out again without retching. There is Siula Grande on the radioscopy, there are hazardous abysses and glaciers lying in wait, she said, in your mouth, fluted ridges festooned by hidden cornices. She said, there is ice on the slope of your sinuses, and extracted my left second molar abruptly with a metal handled ice axe. Another peripatetic hike. The net curtain illuminates the bottom of the bedroom, an exposed dripstone cave flared by a torch, the ceiling of a planetarium again, since there had not been such a starry winter night for a long time and you needed to see clearly that arc of the karst stretching between the hemisphere and the telescope. To calculate the distance to another planet trudging metre by metre this city’s snow-padded avenues and paths towards home: your footprints as if tapping line after line in an invisible notebook blindfolded. The streets and courtyards enveloped with newer srata with the hour, rising like dough, seeping in through the pattern of the curtains. Did they creep up to the duvet and the pillows, you ask. Are you asking about those pillows of bricks? About the billion beaming planets pulsating on the ceiling of my space observatory? Wondering if tonight all bobbly-armchair astronomers and amateur stargazers have already dropped off?
White night 3
Another blizzard on rooftops and streetlamps. Dawn. You are a light year away. That’s about just under ten trillion kilometres. You are always an hour behind me on the air routes of daily routines. You are a vapour trail ahead of me when it comes to remembering. You emerge in my rear view when it’s time to forget. To forget forecasts of further winter storms. There is heavy safety in these numbers which means the snow sooner or later drains, the mackerel sky soaks up, the absence of extracted molars ease and the satellite finds its way out of clouds’ turbulent textures. The droopy burst of a starting engine. A night trolley-bus reeling by under my windowsill, an old filmstrip in a rusty slide-projector, creaking, rattling. Crunching, like steadfast crampons advancing slowly against the resistance of freshly fallen snow on the surface of the Moon. In each frame a quiet town-dweller, the face of an acrobat or an astronaut, a figure skater or a kite runner, hasty early morning drafts of mascara smeared against the gloss of the glass, scoops of powder and paint. Someone scraping last night’s snowfall off his windscreen. Another early morning bus. Scuffling, like an old concierge, in slush, winking into sudden morning light shafts. Alpinists black out and faint into amnesia before the distant murmur of a powder snow avalanche, I think. I’d rather wait quietly at a base-camp. If you were me, you suggest, you’d get ahead of the winter cocoon of the old year and get yourself a sleeping bag or a Bivouac sack and hibernate in silence. Another blizzard bursts in through the net curtains. Another snow fall. I dip my face in the nylon net. I spot a garden. In this garden a magnolia, around it large fluffy leaves scattered, black and brown Indian Runner Duck chicks in the snow. You lean over a flimsy leaf. You pick up a parched body of a moth. A weary cough of a motorbike, I think. Don’t frown, this flowering is only temporary. Here is your woolly hat for sleep-hiking in your future flights across the altocumulus mackerel sky. Look, a vapour trail, a white-gold necklace against papery skin. I breathe deep, and hide in a quinzee, excavated from a pile of snow, hardened, sintered. I exhale icicles rolled up under the frosty arc of a second before January’s ostentatious arrival in the cacophony of trombones and paper horns.
White night 4
This train trip on this early January morning is like the alpinist’s who undertook the first ascent of the west face of the Peruvian Andes and slipped and got suspended on a rope above a gaping crack of a bottomless glacier. My train too seems to levitate for a flash reeling by that monstrous tower block, a giant mountain chain, remembered from dark concrete panes of past train trips, faces of forests learnt by heart, names of towns reiterated even in sleep. And just when the train passes by it falls, as if, hanging above this nothing on a rope, someone, you, for example, had cut the rough fibre with an invisible pocket knife, with a single-syllable hiss. Why, I wonder, these flimsy faces etched into trams’ glass? Do masks leave an impression of friction ridges too? They do. The Capuchin monks do. And I breathe air sporadically in and out and imagine, I am a winter coat, an alpinist’s heavy gear I all at once stripped off – discarding old skin, remains of cords, an ice axe, a red suitcase, a worn out cocoon and a light waterproof tent under echoes of seracs and archways I would never want to return to. A horizontal fall. Be Munchausen, you boom, and eat snow, ride cannonballs and pull yourself out of this hole by your own hair. By the roots. By the bulbs.
White night 5
Four am. The rhythmic noise of shovelling snow. Scraping soft strata off the frozen tarmac. Familiar. I nearly fall asleep. The rescue tent snowed up. The first morning bus, a sequence of random messages in a steamed up bottle, written by under my window. Buses are reiterations of a single thought for a life-time. You think you are ploughing a path en route for home. To you. I dreamt. Drooling fibreglass, leaking light shafts from my mouth. I’ve told you before, that this city’s mascara from the top of the hill is painted pallid yellow. Through the patterns of grandmother’s net curtains, through the nervation scribbled on a skating rink. Under the ice, a giant’s face, asleep. Look, grandmother’s picked up this new habit of falling into slumber in the middle of her sentence and slowly sliding off her bobbly armchair into the snow. Like a thin plate. Or a petal. What’s your magnolia doing in the winter, I wonder. What happens to those large oval leaves, you say, that blossom healthy squabs more than once a year, maybe twice or even more, and lie softly on the ground like parched bodies of moths, malingering, when winter arrives? I have trudged through this brightness before. In this thick carpet of corollas. Of black and brown Indian Runner Ducks. That night was midsummer. And that night was so bright too I could not sleep. They say snow and sun correlate. You drop your gaze down into the abyss of your winter courtyard leaning over its knife edge. In the bottom of it, a bare tree, a black crow and a woolly hat stuck on its branch. What’s all this illumination? What’s all this brightness for? You gesture, drop that twinkling torch into the middle of the night, like a lump of soft soil drawing a light shaft as it falls into nothing.
White night 6
Travelling in the last carriage again. In reverse, too hooked on past landscapes and snow-fields covered with crows. Look, last night a man staggering in front of me in the cobbled street blew kisses to every passer-by. He turned to me and gave me an acidic hug. He whispered “father” and “fossil” into my ear and vanished into the blizzard again. Only a little invisible cloud of a sour breath remained in the air for a few seconds. Look at this picture. Framed by the back window of the last carriage. A departing landscape running backwards on a rail-line diminishing into a bullseye. The distance between this bullseye and my eye is the arrow. Someone said releasing the arrow is the best way to let go of landscapes. The slow caravan of late night traffic. Snow-chains might help the rubber tyres. Or crampons to progress on foot. The echo of an axe struck into a wall of ice, a tram shrieks, and jumps off the track at a sudden bend like a figure skater who hasn’t practiced the quad jump. It is March, and it is raining. The month of open anoraks and breathless sprints after buses and trams to galleries and basilicas. You slip in chips of stained glass, paddling up to your ears in mosaics randomly collaged, as if trudging sacrilegiously through the West Window of Winchester Cathedral.
White night 7
Bring out the binoculars. The taxi driver, I can tell, has drifted off, like a curled up inuit in his warm igloo. I knock on his iced up bonnet. Last night I saw a documentary on an alpinist attempting an ascent of the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes who fell into a gaping crevasse below, landing unexpectedly on a snow bridge. He had the soul of a misanthrope, pressing his face against stalactites, anchoring himself to an ice wall, dozing off, drooling in silence, still insomniac. In an over air-conditioned cabin. Of a tram. Of a spasmodic trolley-bus. Then he learnt the route downhill by heart. And this by heart will have to go, he thought, I think. Needless to say he survived. He crawled like a larva for seven days with torn tendons, from cloud-level to sea-level. On the eighth day he reached the foot of the mountain at last, finishing his last few metres wriggling his body through rough bolder-strewn moraines rolling finally into the dodgy contents of his friends’ latrine set-up impromptu near their tent lit with lanterns. Crawling through the altocumulus mackerel sky. He hummed some banal tune and stared at the orange gleam of Mars, he was rolled up in his sleeping bag, semi-dormant, like a pupa. And waited. Five copper bullets perforated the taxi driver’s potbelly one winter. He too crawled miles in the empty morning street in the snow carrying his burst bowels in his puffy palms. It is all right now, he says and chuckles inaudibly, winking at me from the rear-view mirror, embers in his eyes, safety in his overweight body, fixed, tailored, like a giant winter coat. His cab inside is sheltered, like a mountain hut. The other one, he adds, just right next to you, was shot dead. He points with his plump thumb behind his fleshy ear at the empty space next to me: the absence of my right molar, I think. We reel softly towards the airport. I breathe. Through my nose.
White night 8
A sharp change in altitude. Your eardrums throb so the airhostess offers you sweets to suck and eat and encourages you to chew and swallow. Carriage by carriage, the train zooms by a monstrous tower-block remembered from the deposit of several thick overnight snowfalls. A giant mountain range formed by metamorphic rocks, reigning over the January horizon. Its concrete storeys randomly collaged. Strata of snow. Are there such things? Snowbound streets and courtyards rising like dough with the hour. Or like an air balloon, bursting into your room through the window, a gigantic puffed face. The left sleeve of your winter coat lifts itself. Your face melts into the gloss of the hoar frosty glass. You breathe in and out. All at once it blurs. Because of that sharp puff on the glass. You blow all the leaves off the magnolia tree. They scatter like black and brown Indian Runner Ducks in the snow. You reiterate the names of towns from the very last carriage of the train. For another fading face, another forest to be erased with transparent ink from the landscape and then forgotten. The last thing you would want is to freeze thirty thousand feet above sea level. Above cloud-level. You drop your woolly hat into the abyss of the courtyard. Then your compass. Then your torch. For how much longer will you sleep-hike? Pass me that old tube of oil pastel, tempera, chalk, a handful of snow, a pot of transparent ink. You adjust to the direction of the train inching away from Siula Grande. Look, there, the end of the rope, cut with a hiss. Is that a kite or you flapping on the other end of it, your flimsy figure fluttering in white frost? Throwing your papery body upwards, you parachute, like the sleeve of a winter coat. This one will be a controlled descent with semi-rigid wings, you think. Is there a difference between narcolepsy and insomnia in the end? Between cloud-level and sea-level? The North Wind creeps in and out through your nostrils. A gentle tap on your shoulder. An azure-eyed, slender inspector murmurs into your ears as the train, window by window, reels in to your final destination. Is this the city you were looking for? he asks. You pull your red suitcase after your shadow rolling it through a puddle of last year’s sleet. Fiddling with a cocoon in your pocket, with the dry skin of a Capuchin monk, with twenty-four talismans of friendship. These paper-thin sentences always give you hope. The parched body of a moth you picked up the other day from the floor mistaking it for a brooch, is in your thoughts. A handful of soft soil leaking from your palms. A line of white geese in the snow, a necklace crafted from white-gold resting against skin. A line of black crows pecking the frosty earth. One effaces the other. Illuminates and then eliminates.
 The sequence was first published in Rememberer (Egg Box Publishing, 2012)