Postcard from West Street
It’s been many magnolia springs since the last time I lurked around that tree, so finely rooted in the middle of the lawn in the outskirts of Cambridge. You used to watch it from the window slowly changing its texture as years were unfolding casting shadows of the suburbs on your pale face smearing the colours of seasons on your skin…. and although it’s not May time yet when the magnolia tree blossoms puffy squabs which then fall by September on the ground like small bodies of dry moths, today’s weather is already ahead of itself, winter here almost forgotten, a season in advance, just on the threshold of spring and I am up in the North far away from that spot under the wide open window I used to stand between the tree and the white wall. Ordinarily, May arrives here more sleepily than in the horizontal Fens (you couldn’t find two geographies more disparate), they warned me, we live higher in altitude and closer to the North Pole. And so within a hair’s breadth of Aurora Borealis. The month next in line creeps in inch by inch, they told me, and so to learn to wear layers and not to forget to remember to change the clock tonight and urged me to start planning life according to the new time. I often hear of the most recent news in Ponds Forge which sits right next to Cobweb Bridge, on odd days nicknamed ‘Flyover’ dependent perhaps on the position of focal points, or the sun, the question of origin or the angle of squinting or spontaneity or collective seasonal mood disorder, I don’t know. Resting with my elbows holding onto the tiled edge between two lengths from waist down dipped in the water with legs flapping like sea weed, half air and half water, sliced into two like a centaur, I looked at the perplexed hands of the giant central clock wondering who had untied the complicated network of an entire hour out of that late winter Sunday evening, what mysterious air-breathing arthropod and I thought of the day shortened by three thousand and six hundred leap seconds and wondered if I had lost the edge of the season somewhere between the house in Crookes and the pool. And since swimming pools are the best places to unravel time or timelessness retracing the last zigzagging footsteps of winter I remembered the behemoth duvet cover I’d pulled on the hot radiator before I locked the door after myself then turned right at the corner of Netherfield Road somersaulting down seven chasms with never edge through Springvale to Taptonville Road via Winter Street straight into the spiralling Western Bank to find the heart of the city signposted by the colossal writing of the city’s firewall drawing my memories fram somwher-elles to here arysyng fram shefeld cariage-place and shef-sqware to gon wandrynge abuten laberinthes of aere. I decided to learn this pictograph by heart reiterating every syllable until it made some sense, hieroglyphs which claim to have the magic power to decorate blank facades and inspire drunken teens in the middle of the night to slur each word and pondered hwat yf but I never thought surfaces can ever be blank. One needs to be a parasite gnawing through strata crawling with bright pupils under the skin of the many cities fossilised under plaster. To find the soft core, the delicate porous heart of the concrete. I pan over the erratic surface of maps every day to find the seven rivers entangling the city’s heart like a wire greten and understonden hwat lyen abouten afore the cite wher dremen is re-paien the lives hwat lyen abouten as yit nat rede. But sooner or later unread lives and never written manuscripts, too, show through the topographic paper. That each map maker has their own vision of the absolute map. But there is a misplaced magnolia in every city, a lost bogeywoman lurking on every eclectic atlas and I thought of the lone soul I spotted the other night staggering on the tramlines shrouded in a long maroon veil. Her face cloaked with silk and secrecy, her two orange eyes gleaming in the dark. She’d be swept off to the side of the road each time a late night tram whooshed by throwing her right sleeve up in the air shedding random contents of her shopping on the rails. Then she’d thrust her body back onto the metallic lines like an amateur rope-dancer balancing with unfilled carrier bags in her hands. Meandering among honking cars her silhouette would again be blown back to the pavement by the next tram on its way to Hillsborough and so it’d go for about an hour, tautologically, with some obstinate but inexplicable intention, her shadow like an empty gown flying to and fro between the tram lines and the wall. Post scriptum. Tonight I thought I was by myself. I leaned my back against the house and stared into darkness, like a hooded courier with no news. (But they say these non-messages claim to have the power to predict the past.) I noticed a cat was staring me out in Crookes’ dark backyard curled up on the top of a brick like a perfect bean. The two eyes, light streetlamps, or miniature lighthouses, blind and blinding, watched my every step pottering around within the square mossy metre. It is a mild night. The sky is clear. Heavily starry. The hour is slowly turning to midnight. According to the new time.
The Carillonneur’s Song
Ye bells of forgotten belfries, damp Hillsborough bedsits. There is no word out of this labyrinth. Small spiralling spaces of forgotten foundries, mouldy firewalls drowned in thick January fog. A hazy afternoon when I took that sleety route towards Wereldesend. The border between Neepsend and Owlerton, and rolled down the bottom of Herries Road to Wordsend. The day hid under the shadow of icy Shirecliffe. A so-called Tuesday, a no-name picked from an antiquarian’s old A to Z. At an irrelevant address in a random cobbled street no-one ever turns into (so many of them in this part of the world). An unremembered circuit of a day-trip stretching between two poles of a breath. One which one must intimately utter to fill in the void in memory one day when one sits down to learn these random routes by heart. Trudging through an unmemorable map. By a colossal hollow furnace. A defunct railway which ceased to run in the midst of journeying across this January landscape. Under a grey rainbow of twenty-four hours pending above the earth. A single day patroned by St Zero. St Nil. A stalactite suspended in the frozen mid-air in the middle of drooling from my mouth. They say that the first who was buried in this land was to be the sentinel. The spectre. Destined to guard this silent settlement for ever. With some inexplicable sentiment. The fifteen year-old blonde boy, I wondered. The adolescent Ann Fish. The keeper of lost and forgotten items, litter of urban caves, heaps of rubber tyres dumped in the small vacuums of valleys. The guardian of bobbly sofas of the planet stuck in the mud every hundred yards all along the river. Looking after nooks and crevices, heaps of light bones. Of the small and fictitious creatures of the woods. Minnie Clarke’s remains, Ada Meeson’s limbs. The drowned Ernest Gibson’s. The tiny bones of the twenty-four letters of the charity shop. Ye bells of forgotten belfries, there is no day out of this calendarium. Sooner or later, pigeons will occupy outer space. They’ll perch inside invisible nooks of bells, watch towers, clogged-up cul-de-sacs; coarse throats of dovecots, cooing with no consequence. (That night a horde of wild boar passed by dark firewalls quietly, in a line, slow caravan of dark bodies stalking under the Moon. There were seven of them. On the periphery of the city, at the edge of the urban night they vanished, right into the middle of the black woods of the Buda Hills. Then. But not now.) The goal was to find the definition for another unknown day. A long time ago I knew someone in this city who lived with a bronze bell in the garret, the size of a carillon, silent, soundless, with a withheld resonance of a brief metallic breath, like the numb tongue of a tiny old woman who has no strength left to sigh a single sound except a name, which weighs less than a thousand grams. A street name from an old A to Z scribbled on a tag. Olivia. Ann Fish. Antoine. Elisabeths from dusty antiquarians. A day with no marks by anonymous scribes in the January calendar, the pigeon feeder hummed into my ears. Ye bells of filthy columbariums. Bells of belfries. No architecture can escape pigeon shit. The foul, unfinished pages. Graffitied Hillsborough ginnels. The guano globe. But the question, he urged me, is whether you had the courage to take a seat in the bobbly armchair stuck in the muddy landscape waiting till dawn for the river to flood, for the body to float, for all the rubber tyres to swim up to the surface. (Not that they were not visible before.) The Danube, it was. The river Don. The litter. The letter. There is no separation between words in the end. They weigh the same weight. The fossil. The father. The soul and the soil. I should make my mind up. Whether what I saw was a valley or a void filled up with inner or outer space. And the day, like a tiny rectangular canvas on strings, slowly took to the air. I was holding onto the frozen arc of the twenty-four hours, the twenty-four letters of the charity shop, the tiny bones of the twenty-four talismans of friendship in my pocket, pulling the strings back with my own calcium skeleton, hideous puppets macabre. Ye bells of forgotten belfries, there is no compass out of this catalogue. If you leant close enough, the garreteer said with a creased soul, pressing his ear against the bronze chest, you could hear it was out of breath. More precisely, as if it were breathing spherically. Inward: a circular ride on the giant wheel held high in the frozen air like an unknown name from the world atlas of a deceased world, rotating as if it were a small facsimile earth around the Earth. You the sentinel. The first one to be buried in this settlement destined to love this mudscape for ever. St Nil. Poor Mary Ann Fish. People become wordless when they are most eager to speak, the bell bearer said. The word, the rememberer. And all that matters is the victory of one’s weight, of the height, of the whole body’s resistance. O vertigo. O the neglected anniversaries of all lost items in the world, of all litter of urban caves, of every single letter in the alphabet. Of all still-born sounds. One day they’ll regain their old shape in the January fog. Ye bells of forgotten belfries, damp Hillsborough bedsits. Broken drain pipes; mouldy January dawns trapped in hollow foundries. I took a seat on the bobbly sofa stuck in the middle of the mud and turned my head towards Wereldesend like a Hooded Crow, the one who flies into this country all the way from Eurasia. And when you were gone I counted quietly: the fifty horses, the thirty-eight cows, the eight donkeys, the two hundred pigs and fowls and the seventy-two tame rabbits. The thousands of scratch marks on the inside. The twenty-four small skeletons of friendships. All the telegrams of the Earth sent out underground while we were alive. All the lost and preserved manuscripts. But this happened a long time ago. Whoever drifted this way had to become the sentinel of the settlement for ever. Someone who actually picks up the phone. St Zero. The sexton. St Nil from the old A to Z. From the catalogue of the uncountable. The guardian of all unaccounted items of the earth. And I took a mouthful of air from the circular landscape and held it for a long minute as if one could have colonized it for a split second with one breath. And true. The hillside was already a rabbit warren. I ran off into the woods behind the Hillsborough Barracks into the Buda Hills. I balanced on the derelict rail line between Manchester and Budapest. Between the Danu and the Duna (the most polluted river of this island), between two real obelisk ghosts. What makes this void walkable in the end is the stubborn overgrowth of Japanese knotweed. The only way out of the bogland, the dead ringer shrugged his shoulders, might be to think of something of the unconditional. Something of the boundless, the absolute. And a moment later he was gone. Then I took a sharp change in altitude, and passing by the giant telegraph pole I ran across the bridge to find the exit. The entrance. The definition for an unknown word. I tapped a stranger on the shoulder on my way out to see if she remembered the day when we had met. What will be written on your epitaph, she asked and pointed at the ragged sofa floating on the Don. Which was not the Danube, she was certain. This river is in Werledsende. The worn out mattress on her futon, she argued, already felt like a grave. And George, the stranger’s old collie turned up suddenly, too, with a pelvic bone in his jaws from behind the wobbly tombland. An old Roman helmet. The skull of tiny Ann Fish. And we looked around the land. Tautologies of the planet’s discarded blackened condoms along the path were meandering towards the heart of the city. The rows of shanty towns on tops of nameless hills. Lost in the lack of fauna and flora along the barbed wire fences. The vegetation of nothing. The reiteration of early morning dog-barks. The number of dusty lycanthropes howling through those barbed wire fences into the world. We came here to find an architectural ghost. To track down some unknown family tree; bare and Beckettian with black wet boughs. This cemetery didn’t survive on the map. And yet stretching miles out towards the West. Yes those tombs always looked quite ready to get up and go. It is the angle they lean in at. And the moving earth underneath It’s the obsession with the bleak, the new sublime. What’s fog in your mother tongue, my new companion finally wondered at the end of the January drift. That stuff that chokes the objects, that creamy substance which envelops one’s face with nothing. That drains the voice. It’s just an ad hoc item from the catalogue of unplanned cosmic events, I thought. A chance word, a transparent name filled with infinite space I wanted to shout into from the top of the Hillsborough hills.
Ágnes Lehóczky (1976) is an Hungarian-born poet, scholar and translator originally from Budapest. She has two short poetry collections in Hungarian, Station X (2000) and Medallion (2002), published by Universitas, Hungary. Her first full collection in English, Budapest to Babel, was published in 2008 and her second collection, Rememberer, in 2012 by Egg Box Publishing. She was the winner of the Arthur Welton Poetry Award 2010, the Daniil Pashkoff Prize 2010 in poetry and the inaugural winner of the Jane Martin Prize for Poetry at Girton College, Cambridge, in 2011. She was Hungary’s representative poet for Poetry Parnassus at Southbank Centre during London’s Cultural Olympiad in Summer 2012. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Poetry: the Geometry of Living Substance, was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars and a libretto of hers was commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich for The Voice Project at Norwich Cathedral as part of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2011. A sequence of her prose poems Parasite of Town, on psycho-geographic aspects of Sheffield, was commissioned by Citybooks Sheffield in 2011. She co-edited Sheffield Anthology; Poems from the City Imagined (Smith / Doorstop, 2012) with Adam Piette, Ann Sansom and Peter Sansom, featuring 101 poets, from Carol Ann Duffy to Simon Armitage, Roy Fisher and Peter Riley. Her work has recently appeared in The World Record, eds. Neil Astley and Anna Selby (Bloodaxe, 2012), In Their Own Words, eds. Helen Ivory and George Szirtes (Salt, 2012) and Dear World & Everyone in It, New Poetry in the UK, ed. Nathan Hamilton (Bloodaxe, 2013). She currently works as a lecturer and teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield. Her latest collections are Carillonneur (Shearsman, 2014) and Palimpszeszt (Magyar Napló, 2015). The poems published here are from Carillonneur (Shearsman, 2014).