"Undoing" and other poems

by Zita Izsó 

Translated from the Hungarian by Timea Balogh


We lay with our faces in the sand. 
For a long time, we dare not believe this is the shore.
We don’t know how many of us made it,
how many we lost.
Our features still show signs 
of some horrible fear derived from a non-human force,
fresh asphalt,
the traces of animals escaping. 
Then, we see the sky,
the clouds that look as though they were uneven bits of dough 
ripped by hand out of a piece of bread.
The cliffs sparkle, teeth from saliva in the mouth, 
Birds try to un-hatch the rocks,
everything wants to live,
we don’t cry 
for those who throw into the water 
their now unnecessary watches 
on some faraway shore, 
because we have come to know that temporary,
not at all painful indecision
that those who make it to the light must feel,
like when coming out of the water you cannot find your clothes on the shore,
look for your body for a few moments,
then take off in the direction you assume home to be in,
and cover yourself less and less the longer you run. 

Border Crossing

The people arrive in the village in two-pair lines,
as if everyone belonged to someone.
The long road has left marks on them,
according to a child, their faces look like the buttered side of the bread 
fallen to the ground
covered in dirt.
Hunched over like accordions,
cigarette butts put out on empty plate rims,
fear slowly trickles between them,
water into a ship with a leak,
they lay on the bare ground,
stare at the white cherry pit spit into the sky, the moon.
When they fall asleep, their hunger finally passes.

The News

I was at the bakery
when my phone rang.
I only picked it up after the second ring, 
because I had to put the change on the counter first
to bring you your favorite dessert.
After they told me the news, 
all I could think about 
was how the dessert 
would last another three days,
these three days are my last chance,
within three days it might turn out the news was wrong, 
it wasn’t you, or there’s no death at all,
and those we’ve covered in dirt will shake their limbs, dust off their clothes, 
sit down at our tables, 
and say it’s good they made it home before the storm,
because they hadn’t taken a coat,
and they won’t give any explanation for their long absence. 


His last memory of Aleppo was of the fakir 
who kneeled on a woven blanket and ate broken glass.
It didn’t cause him serious harm, but the glass particles cut up his throat,
so that after the stunt he didn’t speak for several weeks.

The attacks began not long after.
The women and children didn’t know what to do, 
every other day they rearranged their apartments,
the men tripping over the furniture
when they got home.
His parents fought more and more.
They devoured each other, like the fish in the tank,
because they couldn’t buy them food anymore.

The siege had been going on several months. 
They lived behind drawn curtains, with little light.
Three days and three hundred nights had passed 
when he left the house, despite his mother forbidding him to. 
His parents and siblings slept inside.
He saw a massive light, 
the blast launched him meters away. 
As he stared at the crumbled building, 
he thought about how afraid he was 
when, years ago, he lost his parents 
in an art gallery. 
He’d cried for an hour then, he didn’t feel anything now,   
only staring at the rubble and the broken window panes,
and thought about how if he cut himself now, it wouldn’t hurt.
They had to drag him away.
Later, when they asked what had happened, 
it was as if he’d eaten glass, 
he didn’t speak for a long time.


Hebrew 11:35 
“Women received their dead raised to life again.”

From my camp, 
From my entire family, 
I was the only one to return.
They examined me a long time, 
then finally, the doctors said
I must’ve completely rotted away inside,
like a healthy-seeming walnut tree 
that surrendered last year and fell on the hospital. 
My roommate I remind of a sunflower, 
because for a while now I’ve only moved my head.
Some people talk to plants 
to make them grow faster, 
they say you will start talking to me in my dreams soon, my Lord.
Since then I’ve dreamt they take me back to camp,
to the very place I saw my parents last, 
bury me in the ground to my ankles,
flowers the size of my ears grow all over me, 
perhaps I’ll better hear you this way, my Lord, 
but I can’t hear anything besides the other plants, 
the digging of the plants sprouting from below,
light scratching,
how the shells of the nuts
crack deep inside.
At budding time the petals fall open, 
small roots begin to spread,
frozen branches begin to grow,
everything buds, multiplies, and bears fruit,
the polyphonic chorus of creation resounds in my ear, 
and repeats the same message, 
that I’m alive, 
and that some have committed much greater sins than I. 

Caitlyn Garcia