home | bio | poems | translations | contact | on writing

translations of work by
 Attila József (1905-1937)
done with my father,
Gabor J. Kalman

The Seventh

If in this world you lay a claim,
let seven births be your aim!
Once be born in a burning home,
once in a flood in an icy storm,
once in a clinic where the mad retreat,
once in a field of bending wheat,
once in a cloister with a hollow ring,
once in a sty with a pigsty stink.
The six cry out, but which is key?
You yourself the seventh be!

If out front stands the enemy,
take seven men for company.
One, who starts his day of rest,
one, whose service is the best,
one, who teaches on a whim,
one, whom they threw in to swim,
one, who's the seed of forestland,
one, whose forebears took a stand,
not enough tripping up and trickery,—
you yourself the seventh be!

Should you be seeking a lover,
let seven men pursue her.
One, whose word conveys his heart,
one, who gladly pays his part,
one, who pretends to be the pensive sort,
one, who searches beneath her skirt,
one, who knows where the hooks are,
one, who steps on her scarf,—
like flies around meat, buzzing free!
You yourself the seventh be!

If words are jangling in your purse,
seven men should compose your verse.
One, who chisels a city's form,
one, asleep when he was born,
one, in awe of the celestial plain,
one whom the word calls by name,
one, whose ailing soul revives,
one, who dissects rats alive.
Four scholars and two infantry,—
you yourself the seventh be.

And if it all happened as penned,
descend to the grave as seven men.
One, who's rocked by a milky breast,
one, who grabs at a woman's chest,
one, who throws dishes in the trash bin,
one, who helps the poor to win,
one, who works till he's crazy,
one, whom the moon makes lazy,
into the world's tomb you journey!
You yourself the seventh be!

© 2009, Ron A. Kalman
This poem first appeared in Exquisite Corpse.