From Wreck In Lee (2017)



A collection of poems from From Wreck In Lee (2017)
by Peter Závada
translated from Hungarian by Mark Baczoni
accompanied by replicas of paintings by Manuel Mathieu






You are the landscape

your fingers the bone-narrow twigs of the trees,

your barren hillshead peak

crowned a fortress

by the setting sun.


Mis-fortunate old man,

stumbling from wall to wall

of your hollowed eye-sockets,

trembling hand outstretched.


As if your eyes looked inward,

into your skull,

your gaze wandering down the aisles,

the parallel rows of seats

drawing you in

as somewhere on stage

the body’s vanishing point combusts.


And whichever way you turn, there

a potential life is made

of the mosaic pieces of your curiosity

as – gently cracking –

the layers of perception

separate out into planes

and slide, one over the other.



It was you, waiting

in the shadow of the rustling,

the forest’s lungs,

like a stuffy birdhouse,

filling up with noise.


The augur counting eagles

all day long,

forgetting again and again

where he’d got to.


The tempest fluting through

the hole drilled in your ankle,

teaching your limp to dance.

And the mountain kneeled,

begging you

to stay.



It was you I saw

in the desert of the eye,

where time, locked into the grains of sand,

had scratched the lens of the wind.


I saw the fingers

of the shrubs weep darkness.

The bark of the argan trees sweat night,

and a caravan cross

the knife-edge of the horizon.


The silhouettes of the backlit bodies

tautened, like paper figures

in a fire,

and the face of the Sphinx,

like a petrified scream, floating

silent above the dunes.



You wanted to see what was hidden,

what withdraws into its own shadow.

Your blindness now is the night of the cosmos.

The eye is lost

in the radiant magnitude.


Family Album


It’s not the generosity, but the sense of proportion

you find surprising, the sun scattering its light

and shadows before you:

two kinds of seeds for the hungry birds.


Like an arrowhead, you’re yanked out

of observation – you find yourself

amid the darkening murmur. The night takes one last

deep breath, pulling away from the shore

before overflowing.




Breakaway days, cast out of

the continuity of our plans,

in the blindspot of our foresight: such was August,

the summer’s singeing our fingertips.


You can hear the trees sobbing in the garden,

their unmistakable counterpoint

knocking on the windowpane: the bony fingers

of departed grandparents –

no one gave them keys when they changed the locks.



The shadow of the word is an imagined space

the shape of the floating

blocking out the light.



flee the page

like little black earwigs,

chewing holes in the eardrums,

nesting in the brain

– their chorus never more to stop.



There’s nothing for it but

to move into this freefall

and inhabit its

accelerating floors.


We stripped off the plaster

of hollow talk to find ourselves

face to face with our forgotten selves

walled into each other.



The sponges of our eyeballs – soak the view

in colour and form:

cut-out shapes where the things should be.

Like stickers into an album –

what’ll you paste in them?



Where’s your handicapped brother?

On the patio? Who left him out there

in the rain?

No one thought to bring him in

he just sits there, rain falling

in his mouth, like a fountain,

birds drinking from it.


Requiem for Steve Irwin


Lagoons turn into coastal lakes.

Salt water, over time, turns fresh.

The future of a dominant species

emerges from the vegetation.


When you set off in the Range Rover for Lakefield

National Park, you leave behind

the dry season – drought has dried

the riverbed into a desert of cracks.


But the mangrove swamps still give off

the homely smell of putrefaction.

A teeming variety among the branches,

a rich taxonomy of families,

nascent spawncare

in the nests.


A fanboat carves a path

through the sweltering anaerobic heat,

the hum of its propeller scattering

herons and darters

from among the aerial roots.



An isolated area. From the roots of the ferns

there’s a view of evolution.

Those that found shelter in the mud and brackish water

have grown lungs

with which to blame you

for the dams, the draining of the swamps.


It’s your fault. The mudskippers

still remember the massacre of the native-born,

their place taken by colonies of prisoners.

And the descendants of these former convicts

turn back the dinghies, even close to shore,

of the fleeing.



It’s your fault. The mouth of the ravine

still echoes the screams of the murdered.

It tells of the Golden Age of Creation, when

formless space was delineated, resolving into material objects.

Things took form, damselfish were born,

and birds of paradise.



Every man is terrifying.

You’d rather be an anteater

in a catshark’s dream.

You’d shed your white, middle-class skin,

hardening shame into reptilian scales.

You’d assume the outer covering of

a tortured region.


Oh, for some blond naturalists

to trap you ‘mid ropes

quite near some holidaymaker’s paradise.

Your empathy would acclimatise,

like the temperature of blood,

to the cold puddles; and time,

like the blood’s circulation, would be reversible.



Shadows are the body’s harbingers.

The vertical slit of the pupil floats

darkly in the flat, elongated construct of the skull:

an inert log in the eutrophic water.

Blind terror of dawn.


The vertebrae of a spine appear in the water

like a scattered archipelago.

A habitat shrinking into an individual,

a slimy mise en abyme.


But you’re not one of them.

You will never know the

phenomenology of a tick.

The escape routes of guilt

lead you back into the body.


Those that walked in the footsteps

of the prehistoric reptiles left their own traces,

so that birds may now drink

the water gathered there.

Darwin, Comte, and Spencer have drawn you into

the one way street of phylogenesis.



But the mangrove swamps refuse to leave.

Barely audible splashes in the depths:

crabs scuttling in their muddy holes,

as the riverbank clings to the shrubs

so as not to be swept away by the waves.

Only a fraction of continuity reaches you as,

over millennia, dry land

gains ground upon the waters.



The themes and focus of Závada’s poetry have developed significantly over the course of his career. His early poems were more playful, searching for form, while his second collection, Mész, was dominated by the themes of mourning and loss arising from the poet’s mothers suicide at an early age.

His more recent poems published in Wreck in Lee are focussed on greater, more universal themes counterpoised with the precision (both conceptual and linguistic) of science and its terminology. Thus, themes as broad as Greek mythology and Christology are married to mathematics and geometry.

The poems are accompanied by replicas of paintings by Manuel Mathieu. Manuel once said that he is interested in the lost souls of this world, but more so he is interested in altered states of consciousness, transitions and different temporalities.