by Csilla Mathe

Photo by Csilla Mathe


Flecks of white on red
peeling shards of paint slathered on an oxidized, green copper gate
and the weathered engraved plate, which heralds the humble abode of my Timár grandfather.
I suppose it matches the name carved into his tombstone we have yet to see
that is just over one year old.

We did not make time to visit the dead this year
when our time with the living grows so short.

Our only living link to the 1920s
lay like a skeleton with aching joints, over which paper-like skin is stretched
lined like a notepad with fading etchings of a novel she can no longer tell
and we pray to God she will wake each morning
if only to stir so her poor dingy mutt can feast like a queen
and be rubbed with the love only a peasant girl’s hands could give,
with dirt painted under fingernails like french tips.

She is 85 years old and asks me if I am her sister,
how we came here,
and if I have siblings,
when my sister is sitting in the same room behind me on the sofabed.

We point to the photos caked in a layer of dust
like the confectioner’s sugar on the flaky pastries she baked for us four years ago.
She didn’t plan for it to be this way she says
tears strangling the ends of her vocal chords.
“Ne öregedjetek meg.”
“Do not grow old,” she tells us.

I remember hating it there,
bathing in a tub with hard-water rings like brown tattoos in a once-white basin
squatting by a spider spinning its doily-like web beneath the soap dish
and washing the artist and her handiwork down the drain with only half a mind to momentarily admire nature’s greatness.
Only half a mind because I’d rather not bathe with spider webs hanging inches from my face.

I awoke the last day:
the reason I came was to see this wilting grandmother,
whether senile or sane
and bring her some happiness
Scraped from a jar, like hardened honey.
All this time, I had spent my days pitying the joy I left outside the withered gate
beyond the expanses of farmland
somewhere coasting above the clouds, heavy with the burden of rain
Feeling I left my heart somewhere in American suburbia.

I wonder if this may be the last day I ever wake in this dusty bed
within walls built of straw and mud
in the place my grandmother raised my mother
The small cottage house on the land which ripened fire-fleshed apricots
dripping with morning dew.
Where my grandfather’s grapes were cultivated for weak red wine
where brown hens lay a pretty speckled egg a day
while a spring kitten napped on the splintered stairs leading up to the attic.
An attic where salamis were once strung from the ceiling.
where a land once fertile now is dry like sand
and where maybe one day many years from now we may visit to find
the name plate removed
the gate repaired
a stranger living on the land that broke us
but was ours.



Csilla Mathe is a Rutgers University graduate and is happily teaching English in New Jersey. She is still giggling that her publishing cherry was popped by “Boned” and is currently seeking hiking buddies for a Mount Kilimanjaro trek.

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