Monday 30 January 2023

Three Poems by Margaret Duda


American Tragedy


What if, instead of immigrating

from Hungary in the early 1920s,

my parents immigrated from Mexico

around 2005 and settled

in a Texas town called Uvalde

where I was born in 2011?

They left their lives behind

to give me chances they never had.

What if, as hoped, I excelled in school,

dreamed of becoming a teacher,

and made the honour roll every year?

What if the dreams of my parents,

along with mine, were coming true?


And then one day, a mentally unstable

eighteen year old with two assault rifles,

entered the school and my classroom?

He killed two teachers, nineteen students,

and wounded numerous others.

What if I was one of the students

whose life and dreams he snubbed out

as nineteen policemen waited in the hall?


Papa, who looked most like Bogart,

but admired the tactics of Cagney,

would not have waited for two hours.

He would have found a long two-by-four

rushed inside past the waiting policemen

and broken through the classroom door,

with inhuman strength as he was shot.

The policeman, forced into action,

finally entered and shot the killer dead.

Papa would have called my name,

scanning all the bodies of the children,

then howled in pain as he pulled my body

into his arms while our thick blood flowed,

and tears poured down his ruddy cheeks.

The EMTS would try to get him on a gurney,

but he would not release my lifeless body,

as he tried to figure out how to tell

Mama, still praying her rosary outside,

that the dream we all had was shattered.


              Dad in 1927                                                   Mom in 1927 

Harmony on the Hudson  1927


A passenger on the first bus from Sacred Heart

Hungarian Church, my father is already on board,

balancing in the prow.  His eyes, almost as dark

as his black hair, see the women hurrying toward

the Skyline at Sunset cruise from the second bus.


A slim woman with dark wavy hair in a flapper dress

with a drop waist, pleated skirt, and t-strap heels

sees him staring at her and smiles back.  He moves

to help her from the pier and leads her to a seat,

taking the one beside her. 


“I’m Andras,” he offers in Hungarian.  “Margit,

from Battonya in Bekes county.”  she replies. 

He looks puzzled.  “Its on the Great Plains.  You?”

“Turterebes on the river Tur.  It was given

to Romania after the war.  Now it’s Turulung.”


Filled with passengers, the ship jolts into reverse

and pitches into the East River.  Margit gulps, grabs

her seat, admits she can’t swim.  “I grew up swimming.

I can save you,” Andras offers, smiling.  A band

plays “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” as they approach

the Brooklyn Bridge and hear over the intercom:


When Roebling, the engineer, became bedridden,

his wife Emily took his place and finished the job.


“Only in America could a woman do that.  My daughters

will have so many opportunities.”  Andras smiles again. 

She was going to be a great mother.  As the ship passes

New York Harbor, Margit beams at the electric lights

erupting in every highrise.  “They would never believe

this in my village.  It’s amazing.  Wish I owned a camera.”


“I like your dress,” he ventures, not easily distracted.

“I’m a governess.  My mistress gives me her clothes

she no longer wants and lets me go to English classes.”

Beautiful and smart, he thinks.  “Want to dance?”

Following him inside, she slips into his arms as the band

plays “My Blue Heaveen” and she follows him easily.

“Oh, we’re under the Manhattan Bridge,” she exclaims,

glancing through a window.  “I take a subway across that

every day to a factory where I work as an auto body man,”

he tells her, proud he has a trade.  She looks impressed.


The band starts to play a csardas, a courting dance.

“Do you know it?”  She smiles and nods as he

grasps her waist and her hands encircle his neck.

Others gather to watch them work through the slow lissu

into the exhilarating frizz as he swings her to the finish

amid claps and cheers.  Panting, he leads her to a table

by a window as a waiter brings two glasses of wine

and a plate of hot hor d’oeuvres.  They approach

the Hudson River and glimpse the Statue of Liberty

shining green in the spotlights as the intercom instructs:


Notice Lady Liberty and her torch with a flame of gold.

Bertholdi used his mother’s features to shape her face.


“I cried when I saw her from the deck of the ship

three years ago,” Margit tells him.  “My mother sent

for me but she died before I arrived.”


A man taps Andras on the shoulder.  “Time.”

“I’ll be back,” he promises, patting her hand.

He climbs to the stage.  As the band breaks into

Hungarian tunes, he sings the lyrics and Margit

gasps in surprise.  When the set is finished, he

rejoins her.  “My foster father sang in our summer

Playhouse, but you sing, you dance, and even swim.”


Andras suddenly finds the courage to tell her a secret

few others know.  “I was married before.  She

was to join me in America, but she died in childbirth.

I have a son back home being raised by her parents.”

His words gush out  Tears stream down Margit’s cheek.

“I learned what it means not to know a mother.  I am sorry.”


That night, back in his room, Andras writes to his mother

to tell her he feels he has found someone to help him love again.


First Communion                                          Foster sisters forty-five years later

Margit (mom) on L., 

Mariska on R                

Home After Forty-Five Years


“It’s my first time back in forty-five years,”

Margit announces, wishing she could use

the loudspeaker to tell the whole airport.

“Have a wonderful trip to Hungary, my dear,”

the ticket taker says, patting the wrinkled hand

of the white-haired lady beaming with joy.


The ship had taken eight days in 1924,

the plane takes eight hours to Budapest in 69,

then the four hour train trip to Battonya

where Mariska and her good friends wait

at the station with open arms and bouquets

of huge sunflowers.  Will it feel the same?


The three smother her in hugs and kisses

and versions of welcome back in Hungarian

as the conductor lowers two heavy suitcases

and smiles at their reunion.  “Your hair is white,”

Mariska, her foster sister, says.  “So is yours,”

Margit counters, “but I’d know you anywhere.” 


Margit marvels at Gerda and Agi, so unchanged

except for grey hair, but Mari has grown heavy.

“Let’s go to my house,” Mari says.  “I have lunch

waiting.” Margit hires a taxi for them and Mari

gives the driver their old address on Garmezy street.

“I live there now.  I helped Roza neni as she aged.”


On either side of her, Agi and Gerda hug Margit

and marvel at how good she looks.  They wear

cotton dresses longer than Margit’s and smile

at her as if she is an apparition from their past. 

The white stucco house with a straw roof looks

the same.  It is as if Margit never left at seventeen.


They take places at the table set with hand-painted plates

on an embroidered tablecloth.  Mari brings a cucumber

salad, then heats something on the stove. “You didn’t!” 

“Of course I remembered your favourite and made lecso

just like Roza neni did, but added sausage to the onions,

hot peppers, and tomatoes.  Have some bread and butter.”


Margit finds out that all got married and had children,

Mari the most with three boys and a girl.  “I have one

daughter, but she has three boys and a girl under four,”

Margit says, showing photos.  “To our reunion,” Margit

says, raising her glass of plum brandy.  When Mari brings

crepes filled with fruit, Margit passes out her presents.


After lunch, Mari finds someone to photograph them under

the acacia tree.  “I used to resent Margit,’ Mari admits.

“I was special, the only girl, until she arrived, and then she

was always smarter and prettier.”  Margit gasps in surprise.

“She even had a mother in America who was going

to send for her, but when she left, I missed her so much.”


When the others leave, Margit hugs Marisa and tells her:

“I never stopped loving you.”  “I was stupid to be jealous.”

“I want to see their grave,” Margit says.  “Tomorrow,” Mari

promises.  “But you won’t be happy.  They are buried with

six other caskets.  They said we are running out of room.”

“I’ll fix that,” Margit says, “but I’ll have nightmares tonight.”


Mari insisted she stay with her as she was also widowed.

In bed, they spoon as they did as children.  “Zoltan

and Bela?”  Margit asks.  “Both dead.  One heart attack,

one cancer.  Good brothers.” “Eva?  Donka?”  “Jewish

and Roma.  Gone in the camps with their whole families.”

Margit asked no more as tears poured down her cheeks.


In the morning, Mari walks Margit to the small cemetery

and they find flowers at the grave.  “I try to bring them

flowers from the garden every week.”  Margit hugs her,

then joins Mari in the prayers for the dead.  After paying

the caretaker, arrangements are made to construct a walled-in

gravesite Roza and Laszlo will never be forced to share. 


The rest of the two weeks are spent visiting with friends

and Mari’s children, who worked as local tradesmen. They

ask Margit where she would like to go and she asks to visit

the nearby museum for Janos Arany, the Hungarian poet.

She wishes her daughter, also a writer, had been able to come,

but Margit knows she is there with her, tucked into her heart.


The following day, Mari passes her a gift to open on the train

back to Budapest.  They hug farewell for what they both know

will be the last time and Margit tells her, “I never really left,

you know.”  “I know.”  In the package, Margit finds a copy of

of Arany’s poems and Margit finds the quote she memorized

in school:  “In dreams and in love, there are no impossibilities.”

The daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Margaret Duda has published numerous poems, short stories, non-fiction books and articles.  She is working on the final draft of a novel set in the Mon Valley south of Pittsburgh and will have a book of poetry entitled "I Come From Immigrants" published in May by Kelsay.  She was listed in an anthology of "Who's Who in Emerging Writers in 2021 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2022 by Lothlorien Poetry Journal.  She recently began another miraculous journey around the sun and spent the afternoon of her birthday with her daughter Laura and Darcy, the new rescue puppy and had a Zoom birthday dinner with members of the rest of her large family.



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