The Message in the Bottle, Frigyes Karinthy

by Vertebrata

(The Poet Is Asked Why He No Longer Writes Poems)

(a few illegible lines, then:)
…my fingers
are frozen. This bottle’s in my left hand. The right
holds the joystick. It has grown very stiff.
There’s thick ice on the wings. I don’t
know whether the engine can take it. It makes Queer
snoring noises in here. It’s terribly cold.
I don’t know how high up I am
(or how deep? or how far?)
Nearness and distance — all empty. And all
my instruments are frozen: the scales
of Lessing and the compressometer of the Academy;
the Martinetti altimeter, too. I think
I must be high enough because the penguins
no longer lift their heads as my propeller
drones above them, cutting across
the Northern Lights. They no longer hear me. Here are
no signs to see. Down there’s some rocky land. New land?
Unknown? Ever explored before? By whom? Perhaps
by Scott? Strindberg? Byron? Leopardi?
I don’t know. And I confess
I don’t care. I’m cold, the taste
of this thin air is bitter, horribly bitter…
It could be that my nose has started to bleed.
I’m hungry… I’ve eaten all my biscuits.
Some unknown star keeps blinking
at the point I gaze at. The pemmican
has gone maggoty… What star can that be?
Perhaps already… from the beyond…? And what’s the date?
Wednesday? Thursday? Or New Year’s Eve? Who could be
sitting around the homely hearth? Little brothers,
singing birds,
beside the anxiously guarded heart
of petty feelings; bird brothers in the depths
of the human heart’s jungle… Hallo! Hallo!
Is there no one to hear this exiled fellow-crow, myself?
A little while ago
something crackled through the rusty antenna of my radio…
I hear that Mr. D. has found a fine adjective
in Banality Harbor
while C. has discovered a new metaphor
between two rhymes in Love Canal.
The society’s reporting it. Congratulations!
I’ll…tell you all…that I…
when I get home…that I…
when I get home…and…land…
all that I…felt up here…only when
he escapes….can….the traveler….relate it….
But how does he every escape to return?
Now I put these few confused lines
into the empty wine bottle
and drop it through the hatch. Like rolling dice!
If an uncouth pearl-diver should find it, let him
throw it away, a broken oyster,
but should a literate sailor find it,
I send this message through him:
“Here I am, at the Thirteenth Latitude of Desolation,
the Hundredth Longitude of Shame,
the utmost Altitude of teeth-gnashing Defiance,
somewhere far out, at the point of the Ultimate,
and still I wonder whether it is possible
to go any farther…

—Translated from the Hungarian by Paul Tabori