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Excerpts from Noemi Laszlo’s works

High Shadow


That first surgery wasn’t one.

There stood mother, all I feared.

After the fall I checked the wound,

And I left it in the mirror’s memory.


I never made it all the way round morning.

Sometimes noon would take till midnight.

I hardly dared laugh. And by the time

They extracted all the shards.


The shadow was already climbing high

Up the houses and the ten horse-chestnuts.

The evening was as fresh as the scar,

And a few more things no longer mine.


Translated by Jim Tucker


A Planet Passing By




Not in my words: I live in my mistakes.

They are as many as books on a shelf.

I live. Attention must be carefully paid

to fear, instinct, interest.


My nerves get soaked to the last fiber.

I only hope to get done with it soon.

Poor passions ebb away, I die of hunger,

or the siege ends abruptly and


we disappear, mistakes and me.

A host of butterflies chasing perfection

will push themselves across the thin red line,
aiming to leave a lasting mark, under the pelvic bone, inside the skull

for centuries to come.




The earth will know for centuries to come my weight, my touch, my feet.

I chose to enter its opening gates

composed and calm,


I chose to be a lump of soil,

cold, silent, disciplined, or sunny, in a transitory way as life strikes me through,


as the shadow of a planet passes by

my sky, to show that I was born,

that I am cold, lonely and wanting food,


wanting attention with all my nerves,

being curious, chased, daring, uncouth —

crumbling away before I finally rest.



Crumbling away before I finally rest

and memory nests in my chest.


A grain of sand, wishing to shine. This unquenchable desire is my soul.


Crumbling away with strong determination,

here I lie unmoved, I lie






Stretched out above my noble intentions

I cannot but admit my awkward ways.

Drenched to the bone in ambiguity

I need great help to keep walking,


I need space in front of me and behind,

to have some sense of direction,

for this branch to blossom through

effort, even if it has dried —


this is the end, as of so many before:

nothing but me, nothing but me.


Black Soup



A kid, when growing up,

should take up a sport. Unfortunately we took up ballet.

My sister just adores it. I don’t care.


I wanted to play chess,

they said it’s not dynamic, I would stoop. I am yelled at two times a week,

to stretch my legs, look forward,

lift my knee, or else my rear end would get immense.
The torture and the irony are for my benefit, just like

all things at school are. Mom and dad are proud of me, because at last

my back is straight, my mind is quick, my waist is narrow.



Mom, when she was a kid,

played the piano, but wanted to dance,

so we have ballet classes, although I

would rather play the piano.


Mom said it is impossible

to fit a piano through the door. I wonder,

how grandpa did it with my mom’s piano.


Mom says there’s no way I could know,

and this is one out of a million things a kid my age has no idea about.

— —


Dad, when he was a kid, swam in the river

on long summer days and knew the place

of each small piece inside a tractor.


They told him he was smart, he should become

a doctor or a lawyer or a priest. He said he wanted to be driving tractors and

ignored the threat of beating.


But then he did not go for tractors and I think he is a bit remorseful now

for not having become

a doctor or a lawyer or a priest.
It is a pity one can never guess such matters in advance.

— —


At the seaside my sis and I have a room for ourselves. But we are not to go out on our own. We go out swimming with dad and keep asking him

how far is yet America.


Last night we watched a Chinese movie at the open theatre. So now I cannot sleep,

in vain I try to concentrate on how all here is safe and sound.
Outside, the hotel garden is packed with Chinese warriors in horrible masks, they have already reached our terrace.
I can see their silhouette

through the sheer curtains. I am afraid to fall asleep

and not wake up again.



My hair is pretty nice. Sometimes it’s almost long,

but then it hurts, or I get lice at some

terrific summer camp and we need to cut it.


They smear it with petroleum first. It burns me but the lice survive,

the torture is of no avail,

hair has to go.


My hair is short, sticks out in all directions.

My head is cold and all my caps are awful. By the time it manages to grow,

summer is back again,

we need to cut it.


I watch it fall onto the ground.

It doesn’t hurt under the scissors,

but it hurts almost unbearably on skin-level, at the root.

— —


We are practically always moving. I never have a decent friend. I always have to go to some new school,

but by the time I find a desk-mate,

summer is on.


I just don’t see the point in always moving.

The place is small or cold or dark, we just

start packing, there is a list and we are due

to leave amidst a total chaos.


I rather read. Then I become tom sawyer,

Old shatterhand, robinson or cosette,

and dad is super nervous when he sees I am reading a tattered book

for the fiftieth time again.


He’s happy when we are finally on the move

and I am happy when I find myself

at home inside the same old story.

— —


I am in love with Tom. Unfortunately somehow he found it out and almost beat me up during the second break.

That much about telling the truth.

School is difficult ground.


I think next term I am going to be a boy. I have already moved

and now my desk-mate is

an Allan.


He can play chess and almost play amoeba. He doesn’t care about his grades and bravely eats his snack under the teacher’s nose. His pencil case is like a little tomb.

— —


I have decided I will never marry.

Sooner or later everybody lies and hides their real feelings.
Essential is to live

in peace and quiet. What is the point

in all those promises, they would do better with a bit of patience.


I’d rather be alone,

and skip the nerves and shouting. Although it’s really sad to hear no sound in the entire house but my own breathing.

— —


In dreams

I usually run but catch no glimpse

of my chaser.


Often I find myself on stage

or in some burning building,

I don’t get burnt, though.


I never end up actually

hurt, I only get

the fear.


Once in a dream

I got shot and I died,

but it was less unpleasant

than my life.


After the end-of-the-schoolyear ceremony, dad tucked us into the cigar-smelling Renault 1100 to travel across several serpentine paths, take a bumpy turn left from the national road and get off in Smalltown, Thistle street. Grandpa was sprinkling the grapes in the vinery, carrying a curious-looking metal backpack, grandma was preparing soup sticks in the summer kitchen across the yard. We quarreled about the treasures in the drawers of our double bench, managed to finally divide the goods, and summer began.


It was a lousily flowing ancient river, carrying blooming onions and the greenish-blue glass miracles of Mr Grumpy’s soda bottling shop. We pilfered the apricot, tied the branches of the walnut tree into a swing and kept climbing the thorny plum trees even after several bouts of harsh grandparently objection. Grandpa angrily pushed his tartan barret up his forehead. I’ll knock the spots off you two! – he threatened, but ended up leisurley eating his custom green pepper and tomato mix generously basked in sunflower oil, off a wooden chopping board, while he sliced his bread with his pocket knife. He took all day to mend his old mortorcycle in the yard and if we were lucky, next morning he drove to town and asked us what trifle he should bring. Some value would then be added to the treasury in the double bench.


On the way home, across the serpentine paths, we were overwhelmed with all that laughter, those tears shed in quarrel, with armfuls of gladioli carried to the cemetery, with dahlias torn during hide-and-seek, with excavations and investigations, with silly rivalry and with the stern gaze of doctor Aizler. Our selves leaving Smalltown had nothing to do with the ones that had traveled there. We were standing suntanned and lanky at the beginning-of-the-schoolyear-ceremony, with a freshly built grim block of flats in the background.


I still get to see the tattered Renault whenever we take the home exit off the new motorway now. The current owner has mounted it atop a concrete post, it sits there with its crumpled forehead and rusty wheels to lure customers inside the salvage yard. The number plate is the same. The majestic summer river has meanwhile turned into massive convective clouds packed with electricity, carrying violent winds and even hailstones – and we have long stopped to analyze the matter of selves. One is happy to get some sleep nowadays, while the blood of felled bears soaks into the ground and climbs up treetrunks to paint the leaves red. Autumn is here.



From January to March, my hometown sulks shrouded in sour-cream-like fog. Pavements are slippery, the air is damp, no sky to be seen. We live inside a fog-ridden pit, instead of climbing the sunny hills above. Now these hills have descended upon us. Snow-covered pavements are glittering in the freezing sun, huge blocks of crystal are sitting on the road and all the gods have cast their steely gaze upon us from heavens. Sunshine is spinning like crazy across this town unconscious with smog.


Further away, on the conveniently veiled periphery of our minds, our brethren exiled from the human condition are wrestling with the unbearable cold amid the garbage heaps of the landfill while the mayor of the southern capital has ordered kids out of school for the week to prevent them from freezing. They stick to the refuse dragging day into night and night into day, energized by the warmth of our garbage like Antaeus by the touch of mother earth. Here comes the average cold of winters long gone, to lift them and crush them in the air.


Dread runs across screens and cables: the terrible, the horrible cold is upon us. It’s February, after all, the shortest month, the frozen month, the month of purification. We are seeking out the homeless from their concrete nooks to herd them to shelters and lift the weight of their freezing to death from city shoulders. They should rather die of hunger or various diseases, in a more charming context, in spring. When it freezes out there, we suddenly remember to act like humans. Water in heat, shelter from the cold: it is the least a city-dweller can get. The rest is private matter.


The holy sun adorned with a crown of spikes has sat atop the highest hill to admire the garbage in the landfill, the concrete forest scarred with many roads, to count church-spires and fancy residences built all over the opposite hills. In winter, Cluj sulks shrouded in fog, but it also does it at other times, as if it were trying ho hide its blemishes from the sun. Seasons come and go, the hero arrives disguised as heat, cold, flood, locusts and plague, to lift and crash the bloated giant. So much about struggling through life on earth.

Ever since we stopped helping each-other build houses and barns, spin woolen threads and  weave linen, ever since we stopped minding seasons as members of a tight community, celebrating and loosening up have become private business and responsibility.


Many of us have put the entire matter aside, I’m afraid. Besides, the year begins in January for tax-payers, in March for civil project managers, in July for festival-goers, in September for kids and academics, in December for acolytes of winter sports.


Synced to the delay in beginning the year, periods alloted to de-stress are wonderfully scattered all across the calendar, thus the world is all year round populated with stressed-out, vacationing and celebrating individuals. It is almost impossible to concoct an all-encompassing feast of work, creation or celebration, as it more often than not turns out that some crucial actor is too busy, is having a nervous breakdown or is on holiday.


We spend the month of August visited by the breeze of Marian feasts and the effervescence of the blood oath of the seven chieftains, provided that we have remembered to turn the oven off, pay the electricity bill, mark test results, write the editorial, replace winter tyres, keep the turn-bench clean. Everybody is making huge efforts to loosen up, but minds are unfortunately crammed with unturned pieces, and in vain comes Holy Mary shining with the promise of abundant wine, when anxiety leans above the greenery in a heavy cloud.


At the summer solstice Rilke comes to my mind „Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war sehr groß.” and I usually spend the entire summer thinking about ways in which it could be great. It never occurs to me that there is no special way for summer to be great: it is so by definition.


I wish there were at least two more people thinking along with me that Rilke means here this, this genuine greatness inhabiting the world – especially summer – without any effort having to be made, a grandeur we have somehow lost from our sight and hearts since we stopped helping each-other. Great looseness, loose greatness: none is genuine. There is only one genuine greatness around right now: summer. Celebrate it!


Translated into English by the author

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