Jóska, August 23, 1952: The Political Prisoner by Michele Battiste

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


I.    60 Andrassy Street, Budapest
      I lasted eighteen days at the house of terror — skintight cells infested,    
      dank with water. A board and a bucket. They kept me up for days,
      then a blanket of darkness until I knew the world ended without me.     
      Brick walls do not block out screams, and I had my share of activities.      
      They said my shoes needed resoling, tipped back the chair
      I was tied to, beat my soles with rubbers sticks until I fainted.
      I couldn't remove my shoes for two days. Baths of ice up to the waist,     
      while lamps burned my skull and back. The dentist came. I felt
      the drill skip and choose its spot, bore into enamel, the nerve left        
      exposed. A sip of water made me bawl. They broke me             
      administratively — threatened to send my file to the bottom of the pile     
      where it would not surface for four months. I knew a man who'd been     
      in for two. A skeleton in shoes. I signed their papers, was tried
      and transferred to Sátoraljaújhely, never once thinking
      of Jutka, Zsuzsi, Erika. I was a ghost.

II.    Sátoraljaújhely Prison
      But a ghost could never stink so much. We've 24 cells built for 60.      
      The commander kept double that until the Justice Ministry’s
      inspection deemed the facility underutilized. They shipped men
      until cinderblocks bulged like a Muscovite’s belly. Only a few  
      are real criminals, bribed by the guards to spy on politicals.
      The commander locks men in dark cells for invisible offenses.  
      Still, we get bread, black coffee, beetroot soup at noon and six.         
      Sometimes a little meat. And the real insurgents whisper promises
      of a western liberation soon. But every day ends in night, and every     
      night is unending.  Everywhere I turn, backs hunched, quivering
      in sleep.


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Michele Battiste's first full-length collection, Ink for an Odd Cartography, was a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award and was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2009. Her second collection Uprising will be released in 2014, also from Black Lawrence. She was a finalist for the 2013 National Poetry Series and is the author of four chapbooks, the most recent of which is Lineage (Binge Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Anti-, The Awl, Women’s Studies Quarterly and Mid-American Review, among others. She lives in Colorado where she raises funds for organizations undoing corporate evil.