Budapest, March 1928: The Genius of Friendship

by Susan Steward

Read by Baiba Grase

There was not so much terror then:
all in all, they had a little money,

A sweet life as plain
as a hedge sparrow,

A proverb, where the scrolls
of the white iron beds

Creaked at noon
from the delirious

Weight of mothers
and fathers. And no one,

Child or parent, had a reason
to cry out.

At supper, the lace cloth was freshly
starched, had been ironed

Between two smooth sheets
of brown paper.

In this photograph,
which itself is not brown

Or scorched or cracked,
but as glossy as it was

The day it rose
from its bath

Of chemicals and light,
more vision than memory,

Every woman in that neighborhood –
the rutted end of town –

Has assembled, leaning,
on the wrought-iron balcony,

Looking down toward a stray dog,
the backwater ditches, a scattered

Handful of men in gray fedoras,
but, most of all,

Is watching as two small girls,
in straight bangs and wildly

Polka-dotted dresses
begin, with awkward

And painful concentration,
to dance a little forward,

A little back,
between the ditches

And the catcalls,
against the sheer

And dangerous weight
of the future,

Falling on that place.
I used to be so sure that I

Was one of those two,
or perhaps both –

It doesn’t matter –
but this morning

I remembered the missing part
of the picture

Where the flat brass lamp
sits, unreflecting,

On the table,
behind the dancers,

Behind the black balcony’s
shadows, inscribing the starched

White aprons of the women –
the lamp that might

Be nothing if you say
we must compare it

To the intricate fireworks
of blood;

Yet whose poor, sufficient,
light does fall on our lives

And, when it does, is the seat
of the genius of friendship,

Who conducts us from this world
and does not blame us.

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