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Krystal Languell

These poems are excerpted from a series in progress about living in Hungary in the spring and early summer of 2006. The series concerns the processes of language acquisition and cultural immersion. From the perspective of a speaker who is impatient to assimilate into a standoffish culture, each prose section is an attempt to recreate miscommunications in hopes of correcting them. Other excerpts appear or are forthcoming in Santa Clara Review and Sous Rature.

 

from 56 Etymologies

*

The torture exhibit was gone the second time I went to the Danube Bend wax museum. In the doorway, King Mátyás was still at his table, the guests’ eyeballs the sort that follow you as you walk by. Pose in front of the thumbscrews, you’re on vacation in Viségrad. Happy Austrians, who paid to hear the narrative through headphones, pushed the button that put it in German. Fewer of them this time.

 

*

In New York, I cried on the train knowing I would come to find it funny but not soon. Ridiculous, midday, I should have thought of how entitled I felt the day I argued with the kontroll officers when I forgot my transportation pass. Ugyanaz, I repeated, pointed at the card in your hand, I have the same thing at home. In my other coat. They reduced the fine by a dollar and still threw me off the tram. I ripped down some political posters like I’d earned the right to.

 

*

I might as well just be myself, diaspora notwithstanding. I kiss your hand, madam. This is nothing but a scrapbook. My mother’s father came from Sopron, on the border with Austria where they voted to stay Hungarian and became known as “the most loyal city.” This much I understand: I forget completely. I don’t understand that. It could be in my blood, but elfelejtettem.

 

*

Your mother tongue is impossible and without fluency, what is lost in translation is at the root of the matter. When I said promise you’ll love me forever, your sister knew it wasn’t binding. The principle of conservation of energy is false because it can’t be applied to dying languages. Information continues to disappear.

 

*

In the dog park, people called to their animals the same way I would later call you. Gyere ide, come here, you knew it was a pet call and didn’t like it. You phoned to invite me to Bratislava and then I didn’t know what country that was in so I stayed home. I tried to think of a complete sentence this summer, years later, but all I could come up with was this and és a többi, and all the rest, another way of saying blah blah blah.

 

*

He said you eat like an American, and it’s true that when we were homesick, Suzanna and I ate Burger King in front of the TV, watched Red Bull commercials in Hebrew. She thought it was funny how happy was boldog like bulldog while szüz meant virgin. We took our recycling to the bins at the park and a man helped us by drinking the last sip in all the beer bottles we’d put our Gauloises out in the night before.

 

*

I had sex in Transylvania; Transylvanians must do this all the time. Before the Treaty of Trianon was signed, I would have still been having sex in Hungary rather than Romania. In the Kalotaszeg region where Hungarian is spoken and everyone makes pálinka in the backyard, where a particular kind of embroidery is practiced, we snuck out of the bar to fuck while G.I. Jane played in the next room, dubbed.



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