Trafika Europe Corner by Andrew Singer featuring Krisztina Tóth

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Photo credit: László Emmer

 

Krisztina Tóth is one of Hungary’s most acclaimed poets. She has won several awards, including the Graves Prize (1996), the Déry Tibor Prize (1996), and the József Attila Prize (2000), and her poetry has been translated into ten languages to-date. She has studied sculpture and literature, translates French poetry, and teaches creative writing.

She has published ten volumes of poetry and six of prose; her novel Aquarium was shortlisted for the Internationaler Literaturpreis. She also publishes children’s literature. Her website is available here. She lives in Budapest.

The following poem, “The Tourist”, is translated from her latest book, Világadapter/Universal Adapter (Budapest: Magvető, June 2016).

Translator Jozefina Komporaly is a linguist and academic, working on cultural exchanges between Anglophone and European literary traditions, notably from Hungarian and Romanian. She lectures on theatre at University of the Arts in London, and has translated and adapted numerous plays for publication and performance.

—–

The Tourist

 
In the city you didn’t come with me,

I arrived at night. Everyone was heading home:

glum-faced women, well-groomed men.

Being a stranger was written all over my face

and also that I was bone-tired.

There was a double bed,

but only one sweet on the pillow.

The receptionist

drew my attention to the safe.

I wondered what I could possibly deposit,

that I could leave behind, as a keepsake,

something precious, an unsettled matter,

and from now on, how I might need to carry on

to sooner, rather than later

forget the combination.

 
In the city where you didn’t come with me,

it was cooler than at home. Wind-swept streets

saw me drift about, steadily checking for updates.

Trailing the shelves of a Chinese store,

I spent a whole hour. Suspicious, the shopkeeper

kept an eye on me from behind the till.

Being a stranger

was written all over my face and

also that I was bone-tired.

‘How fragile we are’,

Sting mumbled on the radio,

as I paid, rummaging for change.

The robot survived the cargo-hold,

but got damaged at home, straightaway.

It kept spinning around, then keeled over

onto the carpet, with a fixed gaze, as though

like my son would say, about the batteries –

it had its heart ripped out.

 
Whenever you did come with me, it was never good either.

Once in another city, all of a sudden

a sore sprung up on your mouth at night.

We didn’t know the English word for ‘herpesz’.

You pouted, pointing at your mouth,

leaning over the counter, like Romeo.

The woman in the pharmacy finally understood,

and took to serving us with great aversion.

In a third city it was the toilet that got blocked,

we stared at the bowl together, at a friend’s house. The turd

kept coiling upwards, like the tail of an animal lying low.

The animal rattled, as we tried to flush,

so didn’t have the nerve to torment it further.

The Portuguese plumber asked where we came from,

wondering perhaps if we even had running water there,

or toilet tanks with chain flush, and other such-like.

If you don’t feel contempt, you are being conned

you said that night in bed. And we talked about

plumbers, instead of making love.

 
The city where you didn’t come with me,

I discovered really swiftly. The fancy clock in the square

measured the time not spent with you.

In the hotel lift

a man with a laptop checked me out, at length,

his aftershave lingering in the morning air.

I could love anyone but you –

it crossed my mind then. We might go for a walk,

awkwardly, he’d carry the umbrella,

and I could pretend you’re calling me from home,

though it’s just my bank balance pinging on my phone.

I’ve run out

of everything, not only arguments, my loose-fitting clothes

sagging, my very own life.

Being a stranger was written all over my face

and also that I was bone-tired.

I pressed the wrong button on the coffee machine,

the steam poured out, I recoiled,

there were no clean tables in sight.

 
The city where you didn’t come with me,

was conquered by the rain. Three years

had to pass for me to return.

Since then the rain has gone to seed:

cutting a path among the stems with my umbrella,

I made it to the store.

The stock had barely changed.

I bought a purse, and the old one,

the one you used to know,

I threw into the bin

in the car park near the hotel. No-one

could see me, yet I felt like

a pickpocket, who’d robbed

someone, who isn’t even in this poem,

a swindler, who absconds, suitcase in hand

leaving behind the past, payment outstanding.

 
The city where you didn’t come with me,

I will remember as a place of absence.

How many places I visited without you!

I should thank you in fact,

that I’ve become a proper tourist,

year in, year out, never

forgetting that one day, from everywhere

we have to return home.

Until then

I’ll get by with a decent map,

will make it anywhere, and on sleepless nights

wandering the crowded alleys of my memories,

I revisit the continent of an old life,

where in a sunken bathroom, like an old,

insulted punk, with dried-out paste in its white hair

and facing the tiles, there lingers

your stupid old electric toothbrush.

—–

Trafika Europe showcases new fiction and poetry in English translation from across the 47 countries of Council of Europe.

Our latest issue Trafika Europe 9/10 – UK in Europe is free online.

And announcing our European literary bookshop! Please check out this brief welcome video with some great highlights on offer there.

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