Chernobyl II, Stumbling Stones & Lockdown

Zinnia, Plumchen - Photo by Reinhard Latzke via Wikimedia Commons


View of Chernobyl taken from Pripyat – Photo by Jason Minshull via Wikimedia Commons


Chernobyl II

Revelation 8:10-11 “… the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

We are the Chernobyl babushkas wearing black kerchiefs. We are the ones with radiation sickness. We are the firefighters interred in two coffins, one zinc, the other wood. We are the digger claws, we collect the seeds, maize, and rye, and zinnias, the log houses, and bury them in the earth. We are the white storks nesting on clay chimneys. We are the Geiger counters. We are the grey wolves of the irradiated lairs.


Kaszás Andor, Stolperstein (Budapest-13, Pannónia utca 50) – Photo by Dudva via Wikimedia Commons


Stumbling Stones

It was a house set into the invisible,
copper and zinc, brass
recalling the sun, the Budapest avenues,
each acacia leaf and Stolperstein.

It was the doorways with a yellow star

it was the wind in the lilac trees
on Gellért hill, the Chain Bridge
that spanned the Danube River.
Fascist Arrow Cross militiamen
order you to march from Népszínház
Street 16 to Kerepesi út 2-4

it was the bundles, the
Keleti Station, the cattle wagons.

Your shorn hair and tattooed
serial numbers on your arm
at Birkenau the SS guards,
the dogs, the beatings,
your mother’s coat, her shoes
the gas chambers, the crematoria.

It was the stumbling stone.
The cement, the sand, the water.

It was a house. Yours alone.


Zinnia, Plumchen – Photo by Reinhard Latzke via Wikimedia Commons



deep in the mountains
walking through scrub forest
a masked shrike calls out
ah, when I hear its schgra-a-a shriek
“the plague is come”

in the meadow marshes
a vole gnawing rhizomes
come and see, come see
the river mud-washed
for the hills, these verses

these flat needles of
the fir from the Old English fyrh
tied with a thick elastic
some of us rinse the cyanotypes
causing the stories to fade

I, my hands full of dirt
rake and haul deadfall
a year whose days are long
I read your letter
in the moonlight



Ilona Martonfi is a poet, editor, literary curator and activist. Her latest poetry collection is entitled Salt Bride (Inanna, 2019). Forthcoming, The Tempest (Inanna, 2022). To follow her work, please visit her Facebook page.