Circe, Pig’s Heart

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Translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet

 

1a

The gods are called the examiners of hearts

and kidneys, I don’t know why. When my father

cut out the pig’s heart, at first he placed it

in his palm, lifting it up, appraising it and guessing the weight,

and he said: Do you see what a beautiful, healthy heart

it had, only the leaf lard surrounding

 

 

1b

the organ weighed upon it, making the Mangalica wheeze,

gasping for breath, suffocating by day,

rasping at night when it slept, because your mother fed it well,

the poor thing. I also cut off the penis,

and all this was gathered around its heart, you see,

and I saw what had been cut out of the sac, and it was

 

 

2

no longer beating, only twitching, and there was

no longer any penis either, only a muscle

and the thick white mucous-like leaf lard. And the two purplish

testicles, now empty, my father called them dog’s ears,

these also had to be sliced off, as was our custom,

 

 

3

and we give these to the dogs, my father said, the gods’

habitual offering. We also offered

the hooves during the singeing, if you boiled them,

and cooled them off with cold water,

you could remove the hoof by twisting it off at the end

 

 

4

of the pig’s knuckle. In the air was the dawn

mist, the rising smoke and the scent

of the burnt curly bristles, the men

silencing the dogs’ whining by yelling: Quiet, you!

The fire burned in the pit beneath the cauldron,

the well water boiling, steam bubbling

upward, seething water as the sheafs of dry tinder,

shovel-packed in beneath the cauldron,

burned. Then my mother came out

from the kitchen, she stirred the cauldron,

the clear water seething in the boil.

 

 

5a

She came to separate the clean from the unclean,

after my father, groaning, plopped the intestines

down into the wooden trough, he carried them

with two arms from below. In the heap, coiled

like a snake, there lay the ruffled hindgut,

dangling out from the trough, separated

from the rectum by lengths of tied string, the pile

of loins that would be stuffed into

sausage, the stomach which my mother

filled with cheese, then pressed it flat with wooden planks,

a basalt rock placed on top. There were

 

 

6

all the internal organs: the spleen, the liver,

the kidneys, the winglike lungs, between them

the gristly windpipe, the tongue bone

and the singed tongue at its end,

bitten off in pain, because

my father’s knife found neither the heart

nor the veins next to it,

 

 

7a

he hacked away at the poor thing until

somehow the lungs began to bleed or

the animal died a horrific death from fear

and corpulence. In the gray dawn

 

 

7b

the snow reflects the small light given

by the fire, as well as the courtyard bulb. Now

only the courtyard gives off light, like an island

surrounded again by silence, and

the sky, the end of the pitch-black night,

fear, the emptiness after murder.

Because the gods always take what belongs

to them. Whatever they have given, suddenly

they take back forever, granting nothing

in return. Thus Odysseus drifted in

the spell of spaceless self-accusations

and dark words, in a place where only islands awaited,

islands upon islands and in the sky,

cages of light followed upon each other

 

 

7c

in the void which could be termed as the sea

of language, the ocean, the snow, even ice,

because all these are images of water. There are shores

which edge the light within, while the water

leads away the light within itself. But to the well’s

bottom there plunges only the light of the moon

or of the stars. And so the sky was choking

in the dawn silence, and every day was shorter,

because every night was longer than the night

 

 

7d

before. The silence of the longest night

was close by. But the stench that follows screaming

had entered the land. At these times, my mother sat in the kitchen,

turning the radio all the way up to drown out

the shrieking coming from outside, the water of the tears in her eyes

drew in the light as she slowly peeled small garlic wedges

into the cup with its gold-patterned dots, which she otherwise never removed

from the shelf, she peeled the garlic after the red onion

because it drew the tears from her eyes. And she listened

to the music before the five a.m. news because the gods,

with their harmonies, were sending a message through the ether.

 

 


Ottilie Mulzet is a translator of poetry and prose, as well as a literary critic. She was awarded the Tibor Déry Prize in 2020, and her translation of Borbély’s Final Matter: Selected Poems 2004-2010 was a finalist for the PEN America Poetry in Translation Prize 2020. She is based in Prague.

Szilárd Borbély was an academic, writer, and poet. His verse collection Halotti pompa: Szekvenciák (Final Matters: Sequences) and his novel Nincstelenek (The Dispossessed) are considered among the most important works of modern Hungarian literature.

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