THE BIOGRAPHY OF A WOMAN

She bore three sons. Has two sons. Was twenty-five

when she buried the third. Then, the children were given
chocolate milk. .For breakfast! Chocolate milk and crescent rolls.

Sunday. The man

did not drink wine. He drank onion tea from a white porcelain
mug.

A mug of red onion water. This was the onion tea.
The red onion a smelly ball in the onion juice.

The man ate the onion too. The Globe that death ate.

He was operated upon two years ago. They cut out one lung.
Onions were requested, eggs, lard. Then the man drank

a cup of coffee, into the coffee he had put a soupspoon of lard,
into the coffee he had broken an egg. He mixed it all with the

spoon, drank it.

But, he did not drink wine. The family was sitting around the
kitchen table.

Jánoska was ten months old. Brain fever. Death.

Jánoska in a tiny blue coffin. In a tiny blue coffin on the table in
the room.

Jánoska a wax lily. Jánoska a wax rose.

Jánoska a wax bear. A blond wax bear. Jánoska a yellow wax
lizard.

A scaly newborn lizard. Jánoska a white-crested newt. Jánoska
a dwarf-

Christmas-tree. Jánoska frozen angel hair. Jánoska a praying
tadpole.

His wax fingers clasped in prayer. Tiny wax hands like a rainy
slate tent.

His wax smile, black murky night. On his wax eyelids

the dew of holy water, like diamond dust on the tail of our

Galaxy.

On Jánoska’s ice heart nose tip a red goblin sits. And the
patent-leather booted

                goblin has seven heads, on seven scaly green towers, seven
                       heads.

   On seven necks, seven heads. On each head the face of an
     angel.

   On each angel face a green gold beard. And there are fourteen
     eyeballs in the seven angel faces.

   Like spinning tops, the goblin angel dragon heads turn.
   Their eyes: Judgment, Grief, Fever, Slobbering, Crying,

     Coughing,

   Mercilessness, Vomiting, Consciousness, Diarrhea, Heavy-
    breathing,

 Guilty conscience, Accusation, Death. Jánoska a milky ear of
corn with a blond

silky beard. And mournful butterfly wings with fiery rings
pinned with a silver safety-pin to the back of the dragon angel

goblin.

Under the fiery ringed butterfly wings, red dragonfly wings:

finned there with a silver safety-pin. The window in the room
open.

Through the window in the door, people looking. Children on
tiptoes.

Adults wiping their noses. On the white crocheted window
curtain,

the white crocheted wings of praying angels crocheted from
squares of yarn

flapping numbly. The bell tolls. The death bell.

In the farmyard, those who came for the funeral are gathering.
Already there: the little blue Saint-John-carrying Blue Saint

Michael’s Horse.

And the horses drawing the Horse are girls clad in white,

with white myrtle wreaths, white rose wreaths, on their heads.
Their hair let down to their shoulders, to their waists. Their

plaits unbraided. And let down.

She was a servant girl, a day-labourer girl, a brick-layer girl,

she worked at the sack-sewing factory and she also worked in a
chocolate factory. She cooked,

she did the laundry, washed dishes, cleaned the house, a child-
servant. Ten years old, with

a Jewish family. She waxed floors. Escorted the older girls to
school.

Carried their suitcases, their net bags. “Those girls always ran
away,

they also ate dates.” When the family was not at home, she
would sit at

the piano, striking at the keys with her red child hands.
Proletarian girl Chopin, proletarian girl Franz Liszt, proletarian

girl Arthur

Rubinstein. Dishwater, lye, soapy water, corridor-scrubbing
water,

frost: these tiled red gloves on her hands. Red animal gloves for
her hands.

She carried mortar in a cement-skinned bucket up to the
scaffoldings,

carried bricks on fodder racks, pushed brick-loaded carts.

“In the sack-sewing factory, I used to wrestle with the other
girls. And my fingers were like

a swollen pin-cushion, the tips of my fingers like little violet
melons.

Masses of pin-prick points. Eddies of pin-wound points.”
She travelled to Budapest by train at 5 AM. To the station.
She was blind for five years as a child. If no one led her,

she totter-walked. Like snail tentacles pushing out from eye-
mushrooms,

with a spirally bubbling, her hands, arms, staggered in the air,
smacking well wheels, walls, fence rails, trees, hens, flowers,
and terrified by what they smacked drew back under her tender

armpits.

The others did not take her to a doctor. Nor did she know what
the disease was. She was blind.

A blind little servant with her rich relatives. “You can also see
my blindness in this faded

photo. That’s me there in the middle.” In the faded photo her

Schwabian relatives:

Uncle János, Aunt Náni. On Uncle János: brown boots, braided
brown trousers,

a short brown coat with skeletal braiding. A yellow shirt with
butterfly-wing

collar. His head bare. Hands on his knees. Eyes light-givingly
dead. On Aunt

Náni: brown-buttoned shoes, a brown skirt reaching to the
ground. A brown bodice with

mother-of-pearl rose buttons. Tight short coat. Her head bare.
Her hands on her dyed-blue Schwabian apron, crease-squared

from ironing and folding.

The apron like Simon Hantai’s creased, folded, drawn out blue,
violet, brown and

green canvases! Tile-blue Virgin Mary aprons!

The Virgin Mother’s tile-blue Cosmos-apron! The mama-
yearnings!

The mama-sobs! The mama-sadnesses! The mama-prayers!
Christmas. Easter. Pentecost. The Lord’s Day. The Blessing of the

Wheat.

Church Fair. The Assumption. Weddings. Christenings Funerals.

The eyes of

Aunt Náni: light-givingly dead! Between, the blind servant.
The thirteen year old. Her apron a brown child-Universe.

In her right hand a yellow daisy. Her left hand on Uncle János’

shoulder.

Around her neck a white four-strand necklace. Her braided
brown hair in a basket-wreath.

And her eyes: blind graveyards! Her eyes: blind graveyards! Her
eyes:

blind jelly roses! Her eyes: snot blind glass colts. Dead glass
calves.

Her eyes: frozen cow mouths. Her eyes: frosty tiny Virgin

Mother heads.

Her eyes: blinded visions. Her eyes: the locked diamond-gate of
heaven.

Her eyes: the two shut gate-wings of the underworld!

“My mother healed me. She rubbed my eyes with powdered
sugar.

She rubbed my eyes with powdered sugar in the morning, at
noon, and in the evening, with powdered sugar.

And she put cobwebs on them. Sparrow shit. And pigeon
droppings. She put tea-soaked wet

packs on them. Picked herbs, medicinal grass, medicinal
flowers, at the pond’s edge.

Idon’t know their names. She made tea out of them, and with
the tea kept washing

my blind eyes. She washed them, kept on washing them with
hard fingers. My eyes,

like the newborn. Like the newborn when they break out
bloodily from a woman.

First their hair, then their faces, then their heads almost
exploding

the lower part of her body, according to the faith like Jesus burst

out of damnation, when one’s legs are like the arms of the cross
and one rips apart from anus to navel! Mama used to wash my

eyes

like mother’s blood from the newborn, like embryo grease,

like embryo saliva dirt from the newborn’s mouth, like embryo
tar from their nostrils.

She hung a sachet of medicinal herbs on a string around my
neck.

I used to walk with the scented sachet like a gold chain around
my neck.

My friend, Aunt Szabó, led me. And we played with knives,
running around

each other with long kitchen knives. With knives.

“My mother healed my blind eyes!” She took in washing and
ironing for money.

Forty kilograms of laundry each week. On Tuesday she washed,
on Wednesday

dried the laundry, on Thursday she ironed. The little tanner’s
sumac was brooding

over its green prehistory near the draw well. And it shed blood
in the autumn,

like the face of the crucified Christ, like his temples, his heart
wound, his hands, legs, dangling

from the nails. In the yard, on clotheslines suspended between
trees, white

towels and white cotton coats used to dry. They also used to dry
in the earthen

breath of the attic. In winter, like glass flames – in summer,
steaming

pages of an epic. The man used to bring the bundle of clothing.
Drunk, sober, her husband brought it. Brought it in brown

wrapping paper,

in forty kilogram paper bag tied into a big square with knotted
string.

He brought it sober, and he brought it drunk. On Monday he
brought it home,

on Friday, he took it back. On Friday he took it back, on

Monday he brought it home.

He brought it from Budapest. Took it back to Budapest.
Her husband loved wine and soda. He drank this from a big

glass.

Beer only at the summer fair when the band was playing. He
would sit there,

a grey rabbit-pelt hat tilted back on his head, his tie loosened,
in a white shirt, his jacket on a chair. His shirt sleeves rolled up

to his elbows,

up to the red elastic bands. He got off the train, the bundle on
his slanting shoulder.

First the train station pub. There: cards. Then on the way home,
another pub. A game of “rex”, wine and soda. At the third pub,

wine and soda.

Billiards. He chalked the cold black nose of the cue and
guffawed

when he hit the white bone ball stylishly. The dog always knew
where he was.

It barked one way when he got off the train with the brown
bundle

and when he started home staggering, barked another way.

The man used to crawl on all fours in the mud. To chortle in the
rain.

He grunted, cried, crawled smilingly. His forehead, his tongue,
his mouth,

the inside of his mouth, all were muddy, his shirts and pants,
muddy. His genitals muddy. Between

his freckled fingers, webs of mud. His eyeballs also muddy.

But he always brought the bundle. He always took the bundle.
And he could hardly believe she was paid merely four pengős!
The children trembled. The woman: “You tell your father!”
And she threw the alarm clock at him. Her scissors.

Threw the lamp at him, her husband jumping aside, chortling.

Like a blazing angel

like a crazed star. The lamp flew into the frontyard. It smashed
through the window,

flaming, glass splintered and the front yard was ablaze.
The tanner’s sumac ablaze, the jasmine bush, and the roses

flamed, the lilies blazed.

“Will I go blind? I have already received my blind person’s
pension.

I appealed for it, it is due me, it is nothing to be ashamed of, for
a poor woman.

But I do not want a blind person’s cane, although they want to
give me one.

I don’t want a white cane or an iron cane, I don’t want to grope
along with a cane,

to grope along in the fog. Must I tap left, right, with a crooked
white iron cane?”

And she gazes into the crystal silence, she gazes with a crystal
smile.

Not to where they are, nor where they speak from. Gazes with a
savior face,

gazes as if He were there! She gazes with a mist-lit face, gazes
with her forehead.

“One of my ears is punctured. A blind and deaf old woman. I

have tunnel vision.

The doctor said: ‘it doesn’t matter, auntie, at least you do not
see,

at least you do not see the evil’” And she hoes, digs in the

garden,

prunes vines, ties up rose vines, goes to the store,
pickles cucumbers and cans peaches. After the war,

during the removal, she was on the “list” too. Had no idea why,

but she was on the “list”. She sat there on her kitchen stool,
having just collected

the eggs, boring her index finger into the hens’ bottoms to feel
with the tip of her finger

the egg in the hen’s body. Or to pull out the fluffy, bloody
lime sphere from the hen’s ass, to excite the hen to lay.

She was sitting on the kitchen stool, her husband was poking
around in the garden.

In the middle of the kitchen: the big clothes basket with a
bunched-up quilt,

pots, mugs, spoons, jam bottles, sausages, all kinds of things.
The basket covered with a gold floral-patterned scarlet

bedspread,

tied down all around, like the soaked cellophane of the
preserves glass,

with a rubber string, or with a regular string if there was nothing
else.

And the neighbour woman came: “I will take the ducks. They will
only die here.”

Later, between two doors, with her little girl between her knees,
a mere five years old,

the neighbour woman stood whimpering. Out in the street,
people screamed:

“Her son is a Communist! Hang this one too! Together with her
sniveling brat!”

At another time, she was guarding a sick person.

Guarding a schizophrenic. The shield of depression. The snail
shell of mania.

The one in a checkered flannel shirt, with yellow corduroy
pants, did not eat,

did not drink, just sat. Did not drink, did not eat, just stood.
He was watching the sunset, the brain-evening, for two years.

The white mind-midnight.

He slept, read, got up. Slept, read, gazed. Was gazing at winter,
at autumn.

Was gazing at summer, at spring. And he began to scream, he
ran in September.

In freckled autumn, running, he screamed, sobbing.

He was smashing a whole basket of eggs to the ground. He
smashed the eggs

one by one on the stone kitchen floor! He first took one into his
hand,

turned it, examining it, balancing the lime bubble on his
fingertips,

then smashed it to the stone, as if he had hugely hockered.

He was smashing them, they really splattered, he was smashing
them, how they squirted!

Gazing with windhover eyes, gazing with hawk eyes,with snake
eyes,

gazing with a knife glance and a spatter, and the kitchen floor
suddenly a yellow glaze, snot honey egg white, suddenly lime

shell half-bubbles, suddenly

a lime shell potsherd dunghill. As if a crazed monster had
vomited, as if madness

spewed bile on the Universe. The Madness Gall-Bladder was
pouring out its stinking fluid.

And his hand was bilely, the wall also spattered with bile. In the
yard:

the woman running around. The other one after her. After her
with a big knife.

With a pig-killing bayonet! “You whore, whore, whore, you
whore!” he yelled,

and she: “he’ll jump into the well!” The bayonet belongs to his
father, who brought it back

from Isonzo. Where he was shot in the belly. Later he was
buried at home.

The hens were also flapping about, they were racing around
squawking, the dog wailed on its chain,

the rooster crowed, crowed blackly. Blackly for the third time.
And the pig grunted like a drunken Buddha, and the goose flew
through autumn like the Revelations of Saint John. And the

neighbours were watching,

crowding the fence, thronging the pickets, watching and
shrieking with laughter.

The woman: an old woman. But a never-old-woman. She has
five grandchildren.

Two great-grandchildren. Her hands move easily. Her feet are
quick too.

And in her memory, Eden is not Hell! She does not regularly
visit the graveyard.

She doesn’t love it or hate it. She goes there on All Saint’s Day,
or on All Soul’s.

Takes an armful of flowers, a bouquet for each family grave.
When she gets back home, she washes her hands “because after

the graveyard,

one washes one’s hands. This is the proper thing to do.
For the graveyard is dirty, the graveyard is dead.

Also, after washing the dead, when we have washed the naked
dead,

their faces, breasts, chests, bellies, the maleness, the femaleness,
and the thighs,

legs and feet, when we have wiped everything, then we also
have to wash our hands.”

She is reading something right now. Maybe a book of poems.

For she too wrote poems!

“As if I heard it now too: O now proud this girl is!” She reads,
looks at

thequiet.Asifshewerelookingattheworldthroughtheshaft
of a straw.

At the end of the emptiness-stuffing in the yellow straw shaft,
the air-lens of the round straw husk, in the air-disc,

hardly anything can be seen. Half-orchards, half-photos, half of
a long-haired doll

split as if by a sickle, old, hair-torn, one-eyed.

What the emptiness-plate of the round straw husk shows,
enclosed in its husk-rim encasement.

One doll nostril. The cotton in the gash between the petals of
the celluloid face rose.

And everything is as tiny in the straw ring, in the thin shaft of
the straw,

as in the Land of Lilliput. She sees in the way we make light
with a torch at night:

the yellow rod of light, the light dust-gold rod painting a little
gold

circle on the dark. In the gold rod, a dewy beetle, a daisy,

a dew dust-winged velvet butterfly, a lemon butterfly, a cabbage
butterfly.

As the torch light stabs a point of fire into the dark, a gold pin
into the night.

She sees as an ophthalmologist does when with a little penlight
he illuminates the eyeball body through the pupil, he sees

the purple blot, the veined disc of the retina,the ribbon-feelered
soft

sun disc veined with light. Scarlet map in the dark. Scarlet
flower island,

scarlet continent with rivers, the earth from a space ship.

“Andtellme,thatAllende,washeonthesideofthepoor?”she
asked

brooding. “Of course, I saw him once on TV.” Maybe she is

looking at herself.

Her husband died in her arms, vomited blood, “mama mama”,
he cried.

There was blood on his chest, blood on the woman’s hands. He
died in her arms.

After the funeral, they scrubbed the floor until dawn, she and
her sister-in-law.

Her mother died in her arms. But she recedes colourfully, like a
beautiful dream.

She lived with her younger son, then with her elder son, now
with her grown granddaughter.

What does this woman read? This not not-old old woman?
“Like a few thin spikes driven into the soil,

Spires appeared on the horizon at dawn.

But they were so small, that the shepherd boy

Glimpsed them as if peering through a straw!”

Indeed, this is János Arany. Indeed, this is his The Village Fool!

1986

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