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Translation Tuesday: All the Countries of the World by Krisztina Tóth

A subtle exploration of how we deal with grief, in a poem by one of Hungary’s most celebrated writers

By Krisztina Tóth and Peter Sherwood for Translation Tuesdays by Asymptote, part of the Guardian Books Network

Pushpin on map

‘In the lobby of all the countries of the world / by a grey panel that buzzed I stood / watching the face she donned for the road.’ Photograph: Alamy

then a tin roof, the stack’s angled design,

that’s it, in the yard a guy’s on his phone,

the gate’s open, hello, best leave it alone,

a man stops me: Yes? – The office? I ask,

the grandma’s yours, then, the one o’clock,

that’s good, he adds, the old lady’s just out,

you mean … I thought, but could hardly doubt,

and so by law allowed a cremation.

I show the papers to a woman fiddling

at a screen, the passport flat, its stitching

lies open, in the room’s press like a window,

its stamps attesting: the bearer to

all the countries of the world can go.


In the lobby of all the countries of the world

by a grey panel that buzzed I stood

watching the face she donned for the road,

as, passing the rails, her eyes were closed,

still like herself, her nose a jot sharper

but resembling more those in the hereafter,

just a body, liver-spotted, a yellow shell,

set free from this world’s vain cell,

as she slid into the dark I had to look aside,

and gave unto her Paradise to reside,

I could wait, they said, offering a stool,

but I had to pick up my kid from school,

they pushed the buttons, made the connection,

it was one forty-six. I don’t believe in

the whirling body’s resurrection.


Summer’s turbine, the sky slurs dry rain,

outside I blink in the wind’s warm refrain,

an acrid cloud it drives and stirs,

it wasn’t her I mourned, we hadn’t spoken for years,

not that face, those hands, or youth’s sepia tint

but the body, the body, that that’s all, that’s it,

the peeling skin, purple nails, that no more’s to do,

that my hollow body can’t bear not love you,

that all the world’s countries are but one

body that’s homeless and returns in none,

cars honk, a cyclist, I dash for cover,

dust seeps through the skin, cakes my heart over,

it was surely past two, she still burned, I knew –

I trudged past the McDonald’s

to find a train through.


Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

  • Krisztina Tóth is one of Hungary’s best known and most popular writers, and has received numerous prizes and awards for her work. Born in 1967, she studied sculpture and spent two of her university years in Paris. She lives in the Hungarian capital, Budapest, where she translates French poetry and teaches creative writing. She has published ten collections of poetry and six volumes of prose; her novel Akvárium/Aquarium was shortlisted for the prestigious Internationaler Literaturpreis of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2015. Her work has been translated into more than ten languages: her novels and short stories are available in German, French, Polish, Finnish, Swedish and Spanish. For example, her keenly awaited new volume of poems Világadapter/Universal Adapter appeared in May 2016 and an English translation of her novel Pixel is due next year. Visit her website here.
  • Peter Sherwood taught at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (now part of University College London) until 2007. From 2008 until 2014 he was Professor of Hungarian Language and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has translated the novels The Book of Fathers by Miklós Vámos and The Finno-Ugrian Vampire by Noémi Szécsi as well as stories by Dezső Kosztolányi, Zsigmond Móricz, and others, along with works of poetry, drama, and philosophy.
Source: https://www.theguardian.com/books/translation-tuesdays-by-asymptote-journal/2016/jun/07/translation-tuesday-all-the-countries-of-the-world


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