04. 30. 2017. 11:22

Mortar – Two poems from Péter Závada

We’re very pleased to share with you two poems by our next guest at HLO’s Brody Lit Nite, Péter Závada in English translation.


Both poems are from Závada's second collection of poetry, Mész (2015), which deals primarily with the childhood trauma of the loss of the poet’s mother, and subsequent relationships. Mortar builds on a Hungarian folk-tale, in which a mason sacrifices his beloved wife and mixes her ashes into his mortar in order to make the magic castle he has to build stand up.


Péter Závada


Got sleepy on my way to the gym
an irresistible drowsiness caught me on the tram.
The grass is sprouting between the tramlines –
wasn't it Prague we first saw them grassy like that?
Remember the pile of mulch under our window? (Hedgehogs made love in it).
Standing, at the edge of the prefab balcony, I pulled you close.
You braced yourself on the air conditioner's metal casing
and the hum of the machine swallowed up your gentle moans.
Just remembered, getting off. Straight to the toilet in the changing rooms to
tremble, overwhelmed, above a small pile of my own faeces,
like those dogs in the park in Prague.
Brought to mind the shame of my other stoop: in that damned white t-shirt.
Ever since you gave it to me, I've hunched my shoulders wearing it, forcing my
shoulder-blades slightly forward,
terrified that my over-swollen nipples
will show through its thin material
and I'll end up looking like my dad in our faded holiday photos.
After my mother died, his body started producing female hormones.




There is little doubt that all forms of limestone, including some of your bones,
were once in solution in the sea, mother.
So said the illustrated magazine I read, sitting next to you at the hairdresser's,
the dome of your dryer humming reassuringly. Natural processes gave you
form, and little creatures helped secrete you. Rainwater, high in carbon
dioxide, ate away at the earth's outer crust, it said, and I concluded that you'd
been washed into the sea as a big wave of highly concentrated liquid. The
humming of the dryer was like the murmur of the sea. Sometimes, there was
so much limestone in the water it was deposited as lime mud. There's still
quite a lot about, even deep underground. You've been building up all this
time. Limestone is good for building with; whitewash is made from builder's
lime. When you died, dad told them to make the house all white. Builder's
lime is mostly limestone; calcium carbonate, by another name. You are made
of little crystals of calcium, mother.
Heated to a thousand degrees centigrade, or thereabouts, you separate into
carbon dioxide and calcium oxide. The carbon dioxide is your soul that passes,
what remains is the solid calcium oxide; burnt lime.

Dad and I took your burned-up bones and your immolated blood and softly,
softly as a pagan mason sacrificing to his mother earth, mixed you into our
mortar to make it set; although you were there already.

Every brick we laid that day
by morning.


Péter Závada was born in 1982 in Budapest. He holds degrees in English and Italian from ELTE University and Theatre Studies from the Károli Gáspár Protestant University in Budapest. His plays have been performed in the Katona József, Belvárosi and Trafó theatres in Budapest. His work has appeared in such Hungarian literary journals as Jelenkor, Élet és Irodalom and Műút, and in English translation in The White Review in the UK and Cordite poetry magazine in Australia. More recently adapted for the stage Shakespeare’s As you like it and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as Moliere’s School for Wives. He is also well known as a member of the successful rap and slam poetry group Akkezdet Phiai.

Tags: Péter Závada, poetry, poem