Unable to find the delicate core, the focal point where everything happens, the streets led towards the margin of the city in that Saturday afternoon, sometimes between daytime and night time, not quite twilight yet, a few minutes past the difference between dusk and dawn, uncertain. Such day-fragments in January often blend into one smoky whirlwind of the hours sweeping tiny groups of women dressed in black, stacks of small and weightless twigs, towards home. Through littered roads wading in the debris of the day, they roll in air like ash or crows sweeping by metal shutters of shops semi-shut. An hour, in-between, when stallholders have nearly packed up all their goods, with only a few boxes of oranges, local eggs on sale still waiting to be sold. Then the fish smell. And the smell of disinfectants. The smell of small second-hand things. The tiny cafes with aluminium chairs piled up on the tables. We were standing here, I think, between a black bin and a yellow mop bucket, what I mean is between what actually happened and what could have happened to us in a half-existent here and now on the threshold of the urban market a few seconds before it was closed. That moment occurs when you arrive at an empty corner, not so much too late, but not quite right on time. The momentum of forcing an arrival on a space which is ready to depart, is what I mean by all this. And so we left with five small and ragged avocados, a cardboard egg box of six local eggs and one shiny Braeburn apple from some Yorkshire orchard. All at once blown out into the streets towards the district, where, you said, the Wicker began to stretch out into nowhere. To the edge of the heart. To the periphery where ghost kids kick phantom football and dark-clothed locals group at corners laconically nodding that they know how to inhabit this town without words. A spot which enables you to look at things from a distance but squinting from a distant enough distance sometimes allows you to fit every single miniature chip into a small but perfect pocket guide or map. And from the stone bridge over the watyr of Dune neghe the castell of Sheffeld we saw the angle of the city as if we had always been pilgriming in reverse, crawling backwards towards the core. We arrived in the empty streets in the end and stared into second-hand furniture shops with objects unreal and underpriced. Exhibits of a dribbling vagabond in the window displayed between a metal kettle and a wooden nativity set with the thirteen characters still complete. Then following flocks of black skirts and scarves flapping in front of us in the wind we found the railway wall, the arch, the heraldic insignia carved out with a long peeled-off pride, a lion and a horse holding a shield sola virtus invicta but we thought this place was equally unconquerable and carried on walking wordlessly under the dysfunctional viaduct where, they said, in the odd hour one could spot blurred contours of cargo wagons of the Wicker crisscrossing the disused station and disappearing with the intermittent ‘chuff’ into the valley of no-man’s land. And then from the top of the forty-one invisible arches we saw the city from this twisted Eastern angle subdued under a weighty petrol-blue skyline, the city walls, the fire walls, the derelict factory surfaces, then the blind-glassed office walls, the enormous rounded gas tanks, unstrippable folios grown eclectically together, like fractured bones imperfectly healed, clumsily designed prosthetic limbs, mismatching mosaics of the afternoon hour in-between, the pale palimpsest of now. We watched the tired posture of the landscape from this frame, paralysed in the hour where nothing really happens. And then we too got tired of staring at the littered streets, the deserted wide avenues dragging their way back to the plastered city hall wrapped in barbed wire against pigeons’ dirt and to the pinnacles of the two cathedrals each engaged in their own solipsistic monologue and decided not to return to the centre until we have exchanged words with those who, although so cunningly camouflaged, have colonized this peripheral segment of the world.
~ Ágnes Lehóczky
Ágnes Lehóczky is a poet, scholar and translator originally from Budapest. She has published two short collections of poetry in Hungarian and two full collections in English, ‘Budapest to Babel’ (2009) and ‘Rememberer’ (2013), both from Egg Box Publishing. In 2012, she was Hungary’s representative poet for Poetry Parnassus. Her collection of essays on the poetry of Ágnes Nemes Nagy was published in 2011 by Cambridge Scholars and a libretto of hers was commissioned by Writers’ Centre Norwich in the same year. She currently works as a lecturer and teaches creative writing at the University of Sheffield.
Editor’s Note: Readers wanting to find out more information on Ágnes Lehóczky’s work may want to read her interview for the Maintenant series, with previous The Missing Slate contributor S.J. Fowler.