by Neil McCarthy

Although it appeared as if the mist that veiled
the sides of János-hegy had been draped like
spider webs in the dew, you assured me that
somewhere beneath, Lady Budapest was dressed
in her best intentions.

The night crept slowly upon us, seeping like
a black gas from between the trees that lined the
winding road back down to Moszkva tér.
Your scarf covered your mouth and the murmuring
silhouettes of other walkers drifted by like ghosts.

Later that night, your ghosts came back to haunt
you, and I woke you from a dream where you
had screamed faintly into your pillow.  He hit you,
you said, and my naked arms quickly grew warm
as weapons.

I am on the move again.  Outside my compartment
the sound of footsteps clamping down the aisle
of the train enter my brain as Stormtroopers.
Hungarian, some Romanian—their voices disappear
down the carriage like an echo down a well.

In and out of sleep, you drifted like a silhouette on
János-hegy, from between the trees like a black
gas that presided over our room.  And I lay awake,
ready to gouge out any man’s eyes and eat him alive
were he to lay a flaying arm upon you.

In and out of sleep, sudden clutches to the chest
to check my passport is still there as the train strains
out of the city, over the remnants of a regime
and the sleepers between, with you on the
platform at Keleti.

by Neil McCarthy

You count the days to our next seeing each other
by the number of sleeps to go, whereas I do it by the number of shaves,
         me never having been a good sleeper,
and shaving twice a week seems to fill in the gaps quicker.

You reassure me about flying, something that I have never liked.
On take-off there is a baby on the lap of the woman next to me,
yet to nibble the bane of fear.  The more I dig my fingers into my own
knees through turbulence, the more he looks at me with curiosity.

It seems you have been gone a long time.  When you are here it
is as though you have never left—my zipped up eyes have your hand
on my knee in a taxi on a late Saturday night with the taste of a
                         strawberry daiquiri on your cautious tongue.
And I fall asleep and dream that you burned down a karaoke bar
because they wouldn’t play Bananarama.  It’s a short flight and
I am not allowed to dream too long for the wanton attack of in-flight
announcements, as if a flash of light were to suddenly hit me and
I think to myself ‘Shiiiit, I do need a car rental, a two euro scratch card,
a smokeless cigarette, some over-priced Pringles, a microwaved
hot dog, a calendar, gift items, a can of warm beer, and an insight into
how fast we are going and how far away from the ground we are.’

I am trying to fathom out why you would want to burn down a
karaoke bar for that reason, what language the woman next to
me speaks, what her child is thinking looking at the tautness in my face,
how flight attendants keep their cool, what to expect when I land.

There are no more sleeps to go.  I shaved this morning, with a new
blade I’ll have you know.  The last time I held you we saw in our footsteps
                 the forgetful nature of snow;
how haphazard even the most recent split second past can be, unalterable
as decisions out of your hands, like bodies suspended in air.

I have always thought of passing from the baggage reclaim through the
automatic doors to the arrivals lounge as waking up on an operating
table after a near-death experience.
      My senses are once again mine.  The child of the woman next to me
is just the child of the woman next to me.
And you will be waiting on the other side, tentatively,
                             with snow beneath your feet.


Neil McCarthy is an Irish poet based between Los Angeles and
Vienna.  His poems have appeared in journals such as the
New York
, Poetry Salzburg Review, and The Toronto Quarterly,
and he has published three chapbooks.  McCarthy is a regular
performer of his work and has been a guest reader in New York,
Melbourne, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Los Angeles.  His website
is located at     

On “The Sleepers Between” and “The forgetful nature of snow”:
I suppose both poems were written around about the same time,
with travel in mind.  I travel quite a lot, for pleasure, for readings
and workshops, etc., and while in the process, be it on a train or
a plane (the latter of which terrifies me) I doubt we notice the
notion of time as much as any other place in our lives—as scarce
as snow and a relationship disappearing beneath our feet or as
long as a memory and the sleepers between.

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The Sleepers Between
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 6, Number 1
(Spring 2011)

Copyright © 2011
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

All future rights to material
published in the
Valley Review
are retained
by the individual authors
and artists.
The forgetful nature of snow