I began at Moszkva Tér, emerging into light
as grey as pencil lead or bonfire smoke
from an endless escalator. No-one moved —
I strained, but could not push past.
And who, after all, would hurry to the day
on a day like this, in grimacing autumn?
At the exit, kiosks and spread-out cloths
were as wrinkled as their owners.
She had been seen in Mammut, under skies of glass
where plaster stags hang down,
where privileged youth refine their tans
and gangsters parade on rare days off.
She was sowing strange weather in the city. . .
making the stags and mammoths breathe,
turning cappuccinos rouge, vanilla sundaes garnet,
causing expensive, unsold suits
to escape from their bored and over-dolled cashiers
and flap along parapets like mohair ghosts,
letting genies loose from the Ten Best Sellers
at the entrance to Libri. By the time she'd left,
the fossilized tooth at the entrance was aglow
like a glacier caught in a summer dawn.
But autumn had long since settled —
American tourists in shorts had gone
from the Várhegy, and the shaven heads
of Krishna collectors were blanching
as they trapped whoever they could.
Ukrainian tour groups filed
from cheaper rooms instead
and lonely violinists serenaded
empty carriages, with warping strings.
Even the view from the Bástya
seemed drained, and the Duna languished
like the aftermath of a river.
In the Vidámpark, the carousel creaked —
but the city, complete, was as sad
as a half-dismantled fairground,
except where her crimson mischief had escaped.
But could the secretaries, the slaves of kiosks
cope with impending winter, with her madness strewn
like a drag scent or a cornelian thread
across the twenty-three districts?
It had to be retained, not curbed.
So, passing the second-hand bookshops
and glued-on-lamppost ads,
I headed towards the bridge.
The ghost of the Vár on the hill to my right.
The ghost of the Országház, its Brünnhilde dome
on the left bank. Behind me, an island of leaves
where a goat in a children's zoo
climbed on and off a one-metre rock. Even now,
this early on, the sense of sky closing in,
the promise of stand-up rides on buses
with slushy puddles on dark blue floors.
Of dashes through sackcloth courtyards
to wire-mesh lifts and steam-warm offices.
How trail her this time? In her quieter moments
what had she left behind her — what muted signs
cerise or vermilion, madder or scarlet?
As I stepped from flagstone to flagstone
through anxious crowds in my trance,
every taste of redness signalled,
every sign the terrain could muster.
Posters for Best and Blikk, the Relay signs
announcing words disguised as news.
Carnations in a balcony
on the fifth floor, watered
by an arm from a shawl. Forked tongues of hydrants
stammering from asphalt. Appassionata, pink
as a poised flamingo, pasted to a lamppost —
one, perhaps, on which an agent was hung
in a monochrome time. Phone-booths
and a blitz of clothing —
gloves, hats, handbags, stockings —
all said RED as I paced
the boulevard's arc, past Oktogon
and Blaha Lujza, to the red light land
where the lips that advertised a lesbi show
were as rich as bull‘s blood wine.
So, from piros to vörös
I encountered crimson, cinnabar and carmine,
totting her up, on a fox's trail
past Rákóczi tér, where heavy-lidded shades
of dead addicts parade for their pimps.
Then I veered off, on a hunch,
through the grey-brown warrens of Józsefváros,
turning and twisting, between high walls
as daylight cringed and the clouds begrudged.
'This way for the Tunnel of Love'.
A violinist scraped in an attic.
On Dankó utca, the plasterwork peeled. . .
as I licked the dust from her hands
and the fox-coloured blood from her bush.
I closed my eyes and, my forints paid,
I continued with the cold on my back,
my forints paid to the Man, not her,
the mirror-shaded giant with a holster of fire,
but semmi gond, she wasn’t scared of him,
I recalled her laughing behind a hand
in a sweet shop, as he glowered.
I kept on at the rainbows of redness,
and when I felt haematite smearing my tongue
I imagined her, sprawled across the city,
ablaze in every wine-glass, in so many vases —
the reds more vivid, as playful and as wicked
as the one who wriggled and gasped
then tumbled into silence, as the music winced.
And so it was, that my payment was returned
as it has always been, with interest.
The Man, now Dwarf, was dispensing leaflets
on the boulevard when I surfaced,
and, aficionado of the city’s bear-dance,
I followed his zigzagging trail to the Duna.
My fox-furred lover had been dispersed in a million,
ermined without yet scarlet within,
a roller-coaster snake-biting ride of a woman
holding, behind her ruby dress, a ruby heart
on a poster relayed from street to street —
her fire re-earthed, as a latent magic,
ours/not-ours. In a city
autumnally grey but with a Fauvist sheen. . .
in which I stood, in the mind-set of her flesh,
on Boráros tér, beside the blue-brown suds
and filled my gaze with the river’s clouds.