ATTILA JOZSEFk,1932

Tell me what lies in store for a man…

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who gets no chance to hoe or dig,

from whose moustache no crumb dangles

and who’s idle among dark worries;

anyone’s spuds he’d plant for a third

taut there isn’t an inch of free land left

and his hair is falling out in tufts

– he hasn’t even noticed it yet?

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who has five acres and a bit,

his scraggy hen squawks at the stumps

the nest of his worries is the pit.

His yoke doesn’t creak and his ox

does not bellow – he hasn’t any

from the bottom of the mug rises the steam

as he feeds his small family?

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who lives alone who works alone,

he has no pepper and salt for his soup

the grocer would not sell things on loan.

He has a chair – to make fire with

a cat sits on his cracked stove

he rhythmically swings the key of the door

he gazes and goes to bed alone?

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who works to keep his family;

They quarrel over the cabbage stalk

only the big girl can go to a movie.

The wife just washes – a slave to sludge –

her mouth has a taste of vegetables

when strictness turns the burning light out

silence eavesdrops, darkness gropes about?

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who is out of work and lounges about,

a woman is clapping the lid in his place

or a small blond boy with a colourless face;

he vainly looks through the factory fence

– he carries baskets when he is awake –

if he pilfers things he is easily caught

when falling asleep, they give him a shake?

Tell me what lies in store for a man

who weighs out potatoes bread and salt,

wrapped in newspapers, sold on tick

he leaves the balance-pan upswept.

Muttering he potters in the dark

– the debts are large, the rent is high –

it’s no good charging more for the oil

there’s no profit – he doesn’t know why?

And tell me what lies in store for a man

who’s a poet, afraid and sings like this,

his wife washes floors and he

spends the day typing out copies.

His name, if he has one, is just a trade-mark

like washing powders of utility

and his life, if he still has a life

belongs to a poor men’s posterity.

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