Zita Izsó was born in Budapest in 1986. Her first poetry collection, Tengerlakó (Sea Dweller), won the Gérecz Attila Prize for the Year’s Best Debut Novel in 2012. With her first drama, which she wrote with her sister, she won the Hungarian Radio Playwriting Contest. The Debrecen Színláz Company took her second drama entitled Függés (Dependence) to the stage in 2010. Her second poetry collection, Színről színre (Face to face), was published in 2014. Since 2015, she and the Hungarian photographer Máté Bach have run The Pest Woman blog. In 2017, they published a book of collected interviews from the blog under the same title. Zita’s poems have been translated into English, German, Arabic, Turkish, Czech, Polish, Serbian, Slovak, Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian. She published her third poetry collection in 2018 under the title Éjszakai földet érés (Nighttime Landing). She is one of the editors of the FISZ-Kalligram Horizons World Literature Series, the 1749.hu – World Literature Magazine, the Pannon Tükör literature review and the Üveghegy Children’s Literature website. She translates English, German, French, and Spanish writers, including the Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik and the Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including the Móricz Zsigmond Literary Grant, the Babits Mihály Literary Translator Grant, and the NKA Arts Grant.


Fish Soup

By Zita Izsó
Translated by Agnes Marton

He approached me and I knew
what it meant.
I wanted to make fish soup
but I switched off the cooker, quick,
lest I would burn myself,
should I fall.
Meanwhile he was screaming:
again, I slipped into conversation with anyone,
my smile was unapt
like an open fly,
and he just kept rotating the clapper, in vain,
no chance he could keep the angels away from the crop,
I was too kind to anyone,
for him there was nothing to spare.

Our kitchen was as tiny
as not-thought-over confessions,
we two could hardly move.
He was closer and closer and I picked up a knife,
I had to chop the vegetables
so they could cook well ‘cause his teeth were bad,
they could’ve broken through the hard words
he threw at my head
if he didn’t like lunch.

And he ran right into it.
Doctor’s opinion: I did stab
but I don’t remember.
I was just standing there with the knife in my hand,
I recalled
I’d been told at the market:
this knife was not for cutting,
it would chip off
as I try to sever my roots
and I won’t have money to buy a new one
and I won’t have anything to chop with,
to chop what I have to swallow because of the kids
like a nasty pill.

I called 911
‘cause he started to stagger,
his eyes opened wide
as if he had caught sight of the folks around him
for the first time,
as if the outside world had just begun to fill him
like water leaking a ship,
gingerly tilting it to the side.

Meanwhile the kids ran inside from the garden,
they said my screaming has scared them,
they thought it was me, dying.

And I cannot speak any more
as if I were stuffing my mouth with raw pieces of vegs,
they are impossible to chew
‘cause they are not chopped and cooked through.

Many sympathize with me,
but I’m secretly afraid I’d be let off the hook,
being told: here’s your freedom.
I can leave
but first I have to relearn how to walk,
and no wonder how hard I try to clamber,
the chair tilts in our common home,
and the walking stick breaks,
the soil under my feet is falling apart,
everything proves to be soft and weak,
‘cause now, without him,
the world around me is more and more plastic,
I forgot where the walls are,
I feel
like fish carried in a pouch,

and there’s no one to discuss all of it with,
I’m just blaming myself
and he shows up in my best dreams,
doing things that had never happened
like pampering my arm
he had never had such a delicacy, all the flavours of the world,
the whole Atlantis sank in my fish soup,
and he keeps spooning the submerged civilization,
the garden surrounded by a hedge, the whitewashed house,
our once-happy life.

(In: Ofi Press Magazine, Mexico, Nr.66)

Personal Biology
By Zita Izsó
Translated by Tímea Sipos

It happened on one of the coldest days of the summer.
I set up a terrarium with the second-graders
that we put a caterpillar in, to observe
the process of a rebirth.
The little boy from Aleppo spoke up,
that’s just how the dead buried beneath our three-story house
will rise.

I did not know what to say.
Silence quickly solidified,
like cement poured into a dry riverbed.
To distract them, I decided
we should name the butterfly soon to hatch.
The boy suggested a beautifully strange sounding name.
Much later, I learned it was what the antidepressant
invented for children was called, which by then he had been taking for months.

He had not come to school for a while by the time the butterfly hatched.
Maybe he realized what he said
would not come true
and he did not want to dishearten the others.

We celebrated a little,
watched the butterfly unfold its wrinkled wings,
and let it outside,
closed the window behind it.
The children watched with twinkling eyes.
I didn’t tell them it was still too cold outside,
and that butterfly would soon freeze to death,

Wanting them to believe in resurrection a little longer.

(In: Modern Poetry in Translation, No.3 2018,
https://modernpoetryintranslation.com/magazine/in-a-winter-city-hungary-ted-hughes/ )

By Zita Izsó
Translated by Tímea Sipos

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.

By Zita Izsó
Translated by Tímea Sipos

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.

„Undoing” and other poems by Zita Izsó, translated from the Hungarian by Timea Balogh