It seemed no more than a clump of earth in the thaw,
a snowball that had rolled down a steep slope.
The day was darkening, nothing to see at all
just fields like tin, the windscreen part steamed up,
but as we neared it seemed vaguely to shift
like a heavy coat raising a loose sleeve,
a ditched hitchhiker’s shade thumbing a lift
in the brief glare of the passing headlights’ weave.
It was there one moment, gone the next. Each car
in the queue steered well clear of the thing
but I looked out for it on the hard verge
and suddenly there it was again. It seemed to sink
like a body, its two near legs in sludge
as if about to run, its nose held to the air,
its upper part attent. But behind I saw
its lower half, wrecked to a pulp. And there,
from its blood-clotted coat, stuck its back leg
that to a regular, agonising pulse kept kicking;
mouth wide open, it sat there, a half-dog
though I could tell from its eyes that it saw everything.
I cried out, Stop! draw up at the side
of the road. I begged you to save it or kill it now,
anything, let the cars behind us provide
an ending. But what can I do? What? Just how
should I end it? And so your voice grew sharp.
What do you want of me? What is it you want? Tell me!
I wanted you not to leave it, I wanted you to stop.
Once you found it you should look after it or kill it.
A week we tended the dog, because we thought
at least it’s better off home with us giving it attention,
as if it were we ourselves who had hit it and left it out
in the road, a fact we had somehow not to mention.
But I could still not help wanting you wrapped
about me at night: I watched your muscular arm
trying not to think of the body that lay propped
in the roadside ditch, of the leg beating like a drum
while your eyes were focused somewhere far away
but did not answer; about the constant fury
and resignation involved in even love-making, and the way
you asked me just what it was that I wanted you to do,
striking the steering wheel over and over again,
and not once looking directly at me, while I
watched as beyond your shoulder rain beat down,
soaking fields under a bloodshot winter sky.
Krisztina Tóth, tr. George Szirtes
From Magas labda (Magvető, 2009)