Poem of the Month
The cellar room

By Ilona Martonfi

Published on June 4, 2016

Tightly drawn curtains in the windows.
Clay pot planted with balsam fir. Hung with glass balls,
walnuts, apples on the boughs. Hand-painted rocking horse.
Porcelain doll. Teddy bear. The house is silent.

My mother, Magda’s, hand-loomed dress.
Eyelet petticoat, the colour apricot.

An old family photograph on the stucco wall —
in a garden, the table set with a cross-stitch linen tablecloth
Magda embroidered.

Three daughters.

Candles and kerosene lamps dispel darkness.
On the oak table: krumplileves — potato soup. Corn bread.
Here in my childhood house. Christmas Eve, 1944:
a besieged Budapest. Snow-covered boulevards.
Steep clay stone roof. Chimney. The woodbox stacked
with logs and coal. Grandmother Kisanyuka rattles the covers
of the black iron stove.

“I left two trunks of bed linens and tapestries in the cellar.”
Mama did describe how three-year-old Erna tried to wake
her father when she heard the air raid sirens. She pulled him
by the nose. My sister took me by the hand. Helped me
with my little red coat. We were ready to run into the
cellar room. Shut the steel door.

Air raids every night.

Unbarked benches. Loam floor. Windowless.
Red candle in the bomb shelter lit by Mama. I sit beside
Kisanyuka and my big sister. Handmade leather shoes.
Velvet maroon dress with a lace collar. Pink ribbon in her hair.
Erna goes to playschool across the street with the nuns.

Mama says: “The kindergarten had a direct hit.”

On a Sunday in early April, there in the walled garden
entwined with wildflowers. Acacia trees. The Danube River
meadowland. Sour wild sorrel. Purple violets.

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One with the strength of many
alone in the distant North End.
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it’s a seemingly endless descent.
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The cellar room

Tightly drawn curtains in the windows. Clay pot planted with balsam fir. Hung with glass balls, walnuts, apples ...

Press

Indeed you miss the point, my friend. It does stand stubbornly guarding mile after mile of soft and useless dust and wind out of the north with a low whine and the lying mouth of the news— the bitch!—the words and weather both are cutting.