Category Archives: Ilona Martonfi

Sunday at Jarry Park

Sunday at Jarry Park

Ilona Martonfi

“Oh! They are married.” Granddaughter Jessica twirls round and round. Sings: “Kiss. Kiss. Tam. Ta-Tam. Oh! She is so pretty.”

A wedding party is coming around the bend on a narrow gravel path. A photographer and a cameraman accompany the newly married Asian couple. Tell them where to stop. Where to stand. Two bridesmaids walk with the young wife. One is dressed in tomato red, the other in black lace. The maid of honour, in pale yellow. 

My grandchildren play hide-and-seek in the park. Amanda is ten, Jessica, seven, and Matthew five-years-old. The children run toward the couple. Laugh and giggle. The bride is lovely in a long, white satin wedding dress. The groom is wearing a black tuxedo.

My daughter Marisa sits on a low cement wall facing the pond. Blinking in the afternoon sun, she looks with indifference at all the commotion. Amanda sits down beside her mother and states in a matter-of-fact voice: “I guess she is marrying him because he is so handsome.” 

Marisa gives her a half-smile. I wonder what she is thinking. Twelve years earlier, it was her wedding day. October 8, 1988, she married Jeffrey. The bride Catholic, the groom Jewish. We gave her a traditional Italian wedding with three white limousines, a Rolls Royce, a photographer and a cameraman. Over a hundred guests danced all night to a trio band at Princess Buffet. The bride’s parents’ wedding gift, a key to her own house. 

I was still married then. I left my husband a year later, on the first wedding anniversary of Marisa and Jeffrey. They were expecting their first child.

I look at Marisa’s huddled body. Blinking in the afternoon sun, she doesn’t speak to young Amanda. Outpatient at Douglas psychiatric hospital. The medications are powerful. They also tranquilize her joy. She suffers from chronic lung sarcoidosis. Generalized anxiety disorder. Melancholia. She lives in an adult foster home under public curatorship.

Youth Protection court. Divorce court. Jeffrey obtained full custody. I supervise her children’s visits: “Owing to potential, accidental, harm to children.” 

Bees are buzzing at the open garbage can. We have an Indian summer in October. I call my grandchildren and we walk back to McDonald’s on St-Lawrence Boulevard. They romp and slide in the playroom. Jeffrey and his girlfriend Alicia pick them up at three o’clock. The Sunday visit is over. Marisa takes the metro back to the foster home in LaSalle. I catch a bus to my downtown studio.

Callery Pear

Callery Pear

Ilona Martonfi

At Ground Zero

buried in rubble

one branch still alive

last living thing to get out 

of the Towers 

gnarled stumps 

trunk blackened.

Now after ten years 

in a Bronx nursery 

finally returning home

this spring

third week of April

white blossoms

in Lower Manhattan.


She remembers,

burned and torn paper.

The voices.

People falling.

Blocking out the sun.


The video of the remarkable story of this survivor tree, barely survived the 9/11 attacks, can be found at on YouTube.



Ilona Martonfi


I would go and gather stars 


bury the black urns at the cemetery

by the Kirche at the top of the hill


remains kept in glass jars

sealed in paraffin wax.


Lay the children to rest


killed under the euthanasia program 

Kinderspital am Spiegelgrund

the ward where the children died


say never, never again


located in Penzing, the 14th district of Vienna.

The gassing of the inferior

for the defense of the Reich


patients with hare lips, stutterers, the slow ones, 

idiocy. Epileptics. The useless


photographed before their death:

Hansi, Herta, Jörg. Annemarie.


Lay the children to rest. 


Unworthy of life.


I would go and gather stars 

play the funeral sonata by Beethoven


place white roses at the field of stelae.




Ilona Martonfi

Black rain falling 

dust and ash

setting off down these village roads 

because there is no word for this colour, 

old newspapers from the day before 

26 April 1986, Chernobyl nuclear disaster

ninety kilometres northeast of Kiev,

as it spreads morning, there is no word for 

this every day and every morning and evening, 

now contained inside a birch forest

keening the loss, wondering if

coming here. I was lost. 

I couldn’t have been more lost

reinforcing the narratives told to me:

the ghost town of Pripyat

drifting from room to empty room trying 

to find what it is that I was after

marshes, peat bogs

at the insistence of loam and clay

radioactive cesium and strontium

a clock stopped at 1:23 am

loose words falling into a void, 

to this day I have no

notes and the space between the notes

going back into the exclusion zone.

Visiting babusya’s grave

its music, incantation in half-light. 

Urgent and elegiac 

foraging wild blueberries.



Ilona Martonfi


Sown from the teeth of a birch tree
lashed together she

lives in a graveyard
paints a poem after Auschwitz

using Zyklon B gas
medical experiments

with a bundle under her arms
never took that photograph

the ghost plaint: here
remember the crematoria

living inside barbed wire
armed SS guards.

“Where are we going?”

Those feared as the other.
Those who rode in cattle cars.

Those whose voices silenced
fifty kilometres west of Kraków

Rajiya in the work camp.
Her only possession

a red knitted cardigan,
made by her Bubbe.

photo credit: Dr. Fred Leitner, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland, 2012

Babi Yar

Babi Yar

Ilona Martonfi


I have been to Babi Yar
a silent, sad earth
leafless chestnut trees, poplars, roses
inscribed in the sand of skulls
Symphony No 13 adagio
I couldn’t even ask:
Who is the bass soloist?
Baritone of speech song.
Fenced in with barbed wire
on the outskirts of Kiev
between Melnikova
and Dokhturova Street
beyond the Jewish cemetery.
A male chorus.
Cellist on this recording
cordoned off by SS soldiers
Nazi-occupied Ukraine

you couldn’t hear the shooting
September 29 1941
in a ravine at Babi Yar and there, I don’t know
a child. I touched her face.

Giuseppa’s wedding

Giuseppa’s wedding

Ilona Martonfi

It is said these are ancestors who come
during nissuin
– ceremony under a huppa
veiling of the bride

Hebrew blessing
recited for Giuseppa Mulè

here in this manor,
Baglio di Baarìa, Sicilia
gate of the winds –
slopes of Mount Catalfamo.

A mother-in-law’s secret family history
passed down over 500 years
the groom will present a gold ring

break a glass under his foot
left together alone in this chamber

skeletons around a bride
on a raised chair
the hóra circle folk dance

i morti –the dead
act out scenes from their lives:
weavers, potters, and dyers
blacksmiths and silver smiths

paint carob wood boxes,
boxes with two hinged gates:
duality of Crypto-Jewish life
on the inside a skeletal family
light a menorah on Friday night.

Sit shiva on a low stool
say the Mourner’s Kaddish prayer

Giuseppa’s eldest daughter
died of fever aged one.