02. 11. 2008. 08:58

The Under-Secretary Makes a Statement (poems)

György Petri (1943–2000)

"Petri is a lyrical poet who has deliberately gone sour... To understand him is to understand the declining years of European Communism and to sharpen our eyes for intimate half-truths of our own." (George Szirtes)

I Am Stuck, Lord, on Your Hook
I am stuck, Lord, on your hook.
I've been wriggling there, curled up,
for the past twenty-six years
alluringly, and yet
the line has never gone taut.
It's now clear
there are no fish in your river.
Lord, if you still have hopes,
choose some other worm. Being
among the elect
has been beautiful. All the same,
what I'd just like to do, right now,
is dry off and loll about in the sun.
It Would Be Nice to Translate Mallarmé
It would be nice to translate Mallarmé,
but in the mean time I keep musing how
I've always fancied sailing first-class, really,
to gaze at the crumbling waves from a deck-chair
with no debts or dependents. Nevertheless,
I have nothing to eat
and, what's worse at the moment, others feed me
(though this is idle talk – it'd be worse still
if others didn't feed me; this way,
like the vile Balkan pigeons in our courtyard,
I still have everything) but these thoughts distract me
from Mallarmé, though it would be so nice
to translate Mallarmé in another life
(other lives being always full of sunshine)
where people translate Mallarmé, not knowing
this world with its grim winters.
The Under-Secretary Makes a Statement
Four special government committees
and five professors of dialectics with them
have been meeting to study the mysterious
rising-power that is inherent in prices.
The hypothesis put forward by the committees
is that prices have a randy nature
and whenever they sight a crowd of housewives
sniffing about in jam-packed queues, they instantly
stiffen like furious Don Juans and rise
and no amount of soothing will bring them down –
entreaties only get them more worked up.
As for wages, they have staying power,
so don't go up, although they do stand fast.
The mysterious working committees have so far –
at a hundred and nine working dinners,
three hundred and thirty-seven working lunches
and two hundred and forty working snacks
(what a job it was to gobble that lot up) –
held discussions in thirty different suites
at a total cost of twenty million zlotys
exclusive of all per diem allowances.
But the housewives are impatient –
so many old hags, grannies in particular,
endlessly moaning on about varicose veins
and seeing no further than their carrier bags:
'Meat – meat – meat – meat' they howl
egging their husbands on to do likewise,
grandpas out on the streets shaking their crutches.
Even the babies wail.
We simply cannot
work, there's so much noise. So, housewives,
let us, for the last time, make this appeal
to your sober understandings: either you make
your husbands and babies belt up, or else
we cannot be held responsible
and might be driven to perform such deeds
as you would later on regret yourselves.
The key to the situation is in our hands
and we do not shrink from using it to lock up
whole peoples, if that is what necessity dictates.
Right here, now, what isn't is.
It's the heyday of responsible fools
and responsible knaves. No! No! No!
I can't be doing with this, I won't have it!
Too many exclamation marks.
Question marks would be more appropriate.
Questionable now
is the sense of my own existence –
though suicide is no way out.
Or: ”out” it certainly is, but it's no way.
It looks as if, after all, there's nothing at all to be after.
I did have a want once, one shared with others.
I don't want anything now.
I am quite alone.
But no, this is nonsense: I edit, I translate,
I have an effect. Therefore I'm a factor
like it or not (i. e. I'm a coward).
I daren't plunge into depths of interior darkness.
I prefer to sit on the Abgrund Hotel terrace,
and I don't say No! No! No!
I swig at my beer and write poems,
I take pleasure in smoking a cigarette
(– well, even without pleasure, I still smoke it).
And then? Oh, the sands run. Life passes by.
Relatively speaking, this is still OK.
In the mean time, everything's crumbling, falling apart. And I
simply can't say No! No! No!
Everything melts down into a N-n-n-yes.
Translated by Clive Wilmer and George Gömöri
These poems were published in György Petri: Eternal Monday. New and selected poems. Bloodaxe Books, 1999.
You can order this book directly from the translator: George Gömöri, 3-A Greencroft Gardens, London, NW6 3LP.

Tags: György Petri