02. 24. 2009. 08:08

East Europe Triptych (poem), Pixel (short story)

Krisztina Tóth

"My name is Alina Moldova.
I come from Eastern Europe (...)
I have amalgam fillings in my teeth,
in my heart I carry an inherited dread.
When I speak English, no one understands me,
when I speak French, no one understands me,
It is only the language of fear
that I speak without an accent."

I.
The loudspeaker calls out our names
and we jump up. Our names are
misspelled and mispronounced,
but we smile graciously.
We take the soap from the hotel,
and arrive too early at the station.
With heavy suitcases, in baggy trousers,
everywhere one of our compatriots loitering.
The trains go with us in the wrong directions,
and if we pay, the small change rolls everywhere.
At our borders we’re afraid, and beyond that
we get lost, but recognize each other.
We know the other side of the world,
the sweat-drenched clothes beneath the coat.
Below us stands the escalator, the handle
of the shopping bag filled to bursting rips, and when
we leave, the alarm goes off.
Beneath our skin, like a radiating jewel,
is the microchip of a guilty conscience.

II.
I know where you live, I know that city well.
I know that black rainfall.
Your mother used to sunbathe on the roof,
in the summer you swam in the quarry lake.
I know that man, his legs amputated,
who lives in the entranceway.
I know that country, I know
its trains, its cries, its chlorine heavens,
its acid rains, its lingering snowfalls,
its pale overly-swaddled infants.
I know where you live. No matter where it is,
if you happen to think of home, the road bordered
with the stumps of acacia trees
haunts you in your dreams.
During the feast, when they drag in
the tree, like a dead man, too heavy, grabbing at the foot,
you stop and look, as it is cast out to the others.
I know what you see: the disheveled heap of human bodies,
on every one of their extended yellow hands
a forgotten jewel: plundered
blue and gold Christmas-candy wrappers.

III.
My name is Alina Moldova.
I come from Eastern Europe,
I am 170 centimeters in height,
my life expectancy is 56 years.
I have amalgam fillings in my teeth,
in my heart I carry an inherited dread.
When I speak English, no one understands me,
when I speak French, no one understands me,
It is only the language of fear
that I speak without an accent.
My name is Alina Moldova.
My heart valves are an unmanned rail-crossing,
poisons circulate within my veins,
my life expectancy is 56 years.
I support my ten-year-old son,
I get hold of some flour, step onto moving trains.
You can hit me, you can shake me,
but my earring only jangles a little,
like a loosened part
in a motor still running.
 
 
Pixel
In honor of Craig Raine and the inhabitants of Mars
 
I dwell on the planet known as Earth, at a point selected at random, in the form of a human body. My gaze runs across the endless shore covered with yellow dust. A spacious, vibrating surface of water is reflected into my opened eyes. I must note down everything.
 
Below my heel is sinking earth, above me a starless sky. By dawn, the yellow dust that is called “sand” has cooled off, but as the beings swarm out into the light, it once again grows warm. They proceed with ungainly movements across my line of vision, for the most part trying to reach the sea. They travel a long distance to the shore in their metal armors, but if they enter into the water, after a few particular flailing gestures, they come out again and hurriedly wipe it off themselves.
 
Their movements here and there are known as “life”: the zigzagging accompanied by sounds and gestures is maintained for an insignificant period of time. For the most part, the same actions are continually repeated: running, crying, dragging things about, the recurring mention and measuring of Time, and its passing as it is shown upon their bodies, which they alternately cover or uncover. They do not comprehend each other, they know nothing of their fate, they idealise and fear the Accidental. The human organism can only read time in a backwards direction, never forwards. In the evenings, they box themselves in, uncover their bodies, splash water from metal pipes onto their skin, and again hurriedly wipe it off. They repeat the ritual daily, thus in all probability they also idealize the transparent Water, just as the Accidental and Time, which are inconceivable to them. 
 
When the zigzagging has come to an end, they place their bodies below the earth. At such times, they do not pack themselves into their metal armors in which they move upon the roads, but rather into a wooden container. They never place their metal armors below the earth. If it is still intact, from that point on, another organism wears it. From time to time, they exchange them between themselves. They approach the shore, however, without their armors, uncovering their soft bodies. Generally, they lie motionless in the sun. Presumably, they wish to attain a camouflage similar to the brown sands, this supposition, however, is contradicted by the vividly colored textile pieces that they wear. They lie as if congealed for inexplicably long periods of time, most likely trying to intercept some sort of cosmic ray. Clearly it is in the interests of this goal that they place above their heads the opened screens of various pattern. Some of them, instead of speech, communicate with spherical objects, with various throwing rhythms. If a large spherical object is cast above them, they bow down before it; the smaller balls, however, they beat with a flat round implement prepared specifically for this use. Two undeveloped female organisms write rounded signs into the sands, which in all probability are readable from above and imitate the patterns on the screens. One of the female organisms shall live for 26 years, then her metal armor shall break apart and she shall be placed under the earth. The second will have a longer life, but she does not love her human body, and finally at the age of thirty has it slit open while two sacks are inserted under the skin. This process is completed with many female organisms, the sacks remain inside, this is patiently tolerated by the female entities. The function of the sacks is unknown. A young female organism carries her offspring until it develops its own metal armor; in the soft wheeled case, however, it cannot move by itself, the mother pushes it. It would like to comprehend the light signals emerging from the screen placed upon the head of another undeveloped organism, and attempts to launch into the breeze a primitive handmade airship which they call “a paper kite”. The name of the primitive head-screen is a “hat”. I note this down too.
 
A developed organism of the male sex attempts to pretend to be a water-being, the goal of the disguise is unknown. I do not see any other threatening beings in the vicinity, and the thought comes to me that the masquerade is simply a game, serving the function of amusement for the organisms. A second, as of yet undeveloped male similarly places water-wings onto himself, and glides through the sea on the soles of his feet, attempting to masquerade as another kind of being. The masquerade is primitive. I note it down.
 
A young male with four eyes ambles in the sands. Twelve years from now, he shall perish of testicular cancer, but for the time being he only feels that the soles of his feet are burning in the sands.
 
The undeveloped organisms frequently search with brightly colored implements in the sands, the object of their search unknown. The implements’ names are “bucket” and “spade”. I note it down.
 
I have a body of the female sex, male organisms frequently approach my observation post with the goal of mating. At such times, they take on particular bodily positions, I note this down too. I do not feel well in the human body, from which from time to time, secretions are discharged. I have put on a headscreen. I have the outer aspect of a person. I find I cannot become habituated to the ways of the planet known as the Earth, but I note down everything that I see.
 
Not to feel, not to yearn, not to ask, not to despair. Not to point upwards like E.T. saying “home, home” but to observe, accurately immortalize every tiny detail, so that if later on I shall not be a person, if they turn towards me questioningly, then I shall be able to relate it all. All of these particular places and bodies. In order, everything, as it was: like a camera unearthed.
 
Translated by Ottilie Mulzet 

Tags: Krisztina Tóth