Is it detached or all-forgiving?
We need a passport to get through.
It nods us past in quick succession
Just anyone, no matter who.
I can rely on its detachment
As I move from place to place.
All those languages it masters,
Wherever I dare show my face!
It’s no big deal who’s looking in it
As it serves its own blind grace.
It neither befriends nor breaks up with you.
Though when you’re pushed in front of it
Whether you’re plain or just plain gorgeous
It frowns and takes the brunt of it.
Could this absolute indifference
Be Absolute? (It takes no joy
In my bare flesh, nor is it bored.)
In all my phases I am simply
What seems to vanish then return,
Part of its cosmic unconcern.
The distance is too terrifying.
It could be less but it is clear
Some speck of me would still appear.
The mirror will serve us blindly
And whether harshly or quite kindly
Forgets at once. There’s little fuss,
Or major choice required for us.
It lets us do just what we want.
Mine drops me quick without a trace.
Mechanically wipes out my face.
Notes on this poem
Kinga Fabó, Hungarian poet, linguist and essayist has written five books of poetry but I didn’t know her work until someone else asked if I would translate a couple of her poems. People do occasionally ask this – so few of us translate poetry from Hungarian after all – and sometimes there is time, and the poems are powerful enough to demand that at least I try. That was the case with these two poems that immediately struck me with their vigour, virtuosity and intensity. Both poems are about the conventional apparatus of womanhood and presentation, mirror and girdle being associated with the process of being appraised. It is actually the girdle that speaks in one of them: ‘This sorry item, all for some man to woo or bride them.’ The promiscuous mirror is born out of the same disappointment and fury at circumstances, but is less gendered and will wipe out any face before it. The poems are in effect dialogues with an invisible other, racy in diction, almost chatty but at the same time metaphysical. It is the blend of fury and wit that determine the emotional key but it is the form and rhyme that lend both the sharp, hard-edged, proverbial, almost Villonesque quality I was trying to catch.