The wheels of the train sing kecskemét kecskemét (Ketchkemate Ketchkemate). Goat. Goat. It is dark on the puszta, the long wide sigh of the Hungarian plain snuffed out in the snow which whirls against the dirty window of the cold car in which I sit alone, hunched and shivering, the heater at my booted feet blowing cold air and ticking. I kick it. I breathe upon my fingertips as I try to write. I try to write. The wheels of the train sing kecskemét kecskemét.

The seat across from me has been graffiti-ed in little swastikas. I’ve seen them before. I remember how Paul once with a smile cheerfully rendered each stark symbol into Christmas packages, complete with bows. “There,” he said when finished. He zipped up his marker into his bag and then lit a cigarette, a sopianae from a cheap brown package, the brand supposed to put one off smoking for life. He blew a ring at me as he sat opposite, the green leather seat of our shared train car ripped, he joked, from a gypsy’s knife. New to the country, we attended to lore and stereotype: when a violinist spit on his tip, we took offense, unaware that the spit would make the money grow.

Paul is gone now, having moved on to Saudi Arabia. I can’t imagine the heat or light of the desert in which he moves, though the drifts I see outside the window, bleak white scallops which border the tracks, are like small dunes. He is there and I am bumped across the puszta in this cold lonely train, on this cold lonely train, the Hungarian English prepositions arguing over location, dimension, direction. In the sky? On the sky? Tonight there is no moon to pluck off or down: only the overhead bulb in my car seeming to dim as I lean my head against the cold glass. The wheels of the train are singing and I grow sleepy.

Puszta. Goat. Plain. In the summer the grasses stretch into an emptiness which fills one space, one room in the soul, one paragraph (stanza) on a page (in a page?) which I cannot fill as the wheels of the train sing kecskemét kecskemét. In the summer the sky is a vast yawn. I grow sleepy.

Kecskemét is a town on the puszta: in the summer, wind-blown and sandy; in the past, thundered over by Mongol hordes. Train wheels are not dissimilar to the anapest of hoof beats: as I doze, the singing becomes the gallop of Mongolian ponies, the tick of the heater the crack of the whip of Hungarian horsemen in blue dress and black vest. I dream they meet and toast one another with apricot brandy, the barackpálinka which burns down the throat, then warms, warms, from the inside out. A small campfire in the stomach.

Earlier, when the kalauz came to collect the ticket, he paused, seeing I was alone. I’m older, but I’m still young. Then he came back with a bottle of brandy and tried to join me but I waved him away, though smiling, polite. I held up a book (in English) and pretended I had to work (I have to work). I do not yet speak the language, not enough, but he left. Now I’m thinking of the barackpálinka and how it would warm me as I sit shivering and the snow on the tracks is churned up by the wheels which continue to sing, kecskemét kecskemét. I am older but still young. Paul is gone. I am crossing the puszta alone on a train which groans and sings, a cumbersome lumbering wind.

 

Amy Jo Minett

Amy Jo Minett has been involved in extensive international language projects for many years throughout Afghanistan, Iraq, and Central/Eastern/Southeastern Europe. She is also a professor of English at the Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts (USA), where she teaches English and Graduate TESOL courses. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Virginia. Her works have been previously published in Poetry East, Poetry Northwest, The Jacaranda Review, and The Wisconsin Academy Review.

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