Wednesday, March 26, 2014

To the girl across the aisle

How many children of Israel,
born into the Covenant,
fell away into Idolatry?
How many Converts
growing up faithless
found truth
and held fast?

Knowing this, that the faith
of the father influences
but does not determine
his daughter's,
how can you sit there,
across the aisle from me,
and call my mother
quote: So, so, so, so dumb?

How dare you claim
that she will fall away
into idolatry
because she was married
in her mother's living room.

You sit there and insinuate
that my faith is worth less
than yours,
is shakier not because
I have felt abandoned by God,
but because my father
didn't sit next to me at church.

Being Covenant-born does not make
a child perfect, free from sin
or temptation.
I have seen temple marriages fall apart.
I have seen the children of two
 devote Members,
Holy as Angels,
turn to drugs, skip church
to smoke, worshiping
the Idol of pornography.
And I have seen two people
who love and support
each other,
who share values but not religion.

How dare you say that
the children of such
people, pure in love,
are ticking time bombs,
falling away into Idolatry,
that I will make all the wrong choices
and only bring grief?
I am not a miracle, exception to the rule.
My faith is mine, not because of my mother's,
not in spite of my father's.
It was mine to doubt, mine to choose.

And then, how dare you
simper, say you are
sorry that I was offended,
putting all the blame on me.
Because of course, I chose to be offended
when you insult who I am,
who my family is.
With unchristian ignorance
you chose to offend.
You do not apologize for your words
your implications, for calling my mother
quote: So, so, so, so dumb.

Call me what you want:
faithless, worthless
don't hide behind "I don't mean it"s
you only add when I stand up.
you meant it when you spoke about others
in my situation.
but my mother's faith
saved me,
she is my world
my best friend.
Call me what you will, 
but don't you dare touch my mother.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sky Stained with Smoke

tenth floor and roof                                                                                                                                                   

Blinded by smoke and tears
an Italian prayer on her lips,
she stumbles, catching her shin
on the  Green Street stairs.
A rough hand grabs her arm
hauls her to her feet.
"Tessie, move!" her rescuer says,
or she thinks he says, his words
are nothing like her Papa's.

He leads her and others up
not down, to a rooftop
where the sky breaks through grey air,
blue stained with smoke.
At last she can breathe
she looks at the faces of the others,
searching and not finding.
The next-door building's roof
is too far above this one
and Tessie wonders if
they have come here to die.
Then someone lowers a ladder
over the side.
Her burned hands throb as she climbs.

They all flood into this building, a school,
with flame free stairwells,
 but it is not until NYU students,
jabbering in English,
have led her to the streets
full of watchers pale with horror
that she realizes.
She asks, haltingly,
"Where is Vincenzia? Please,
she was on the ninth floor."
No one answers
as another body,
shirtwaist gleaming in the sun,



Ninth floor

"The doors open in!
No one hears her, just one more voice.
The ninth floor workers throw
themselves at metal doors,
screaming: Ratevet! Auidami! Help!

The flames are drawing closer,
like too hot blankets
and fear-sweat sticks Kate's shirtwaist
to her back, to her girl's chest
too tight to breathe.

Someone screams in Yiddish
and the crowd, hands trembling,
moves back just enough.
The fire licks at their skirts.

"Hail Mary," Kate whispers
against the hot air.
The doors shudder as girls pull,
the metal burning their hands.
They do not let go
but the door--

the door is locked.


March 25th 2011

Red ink on white
the Cornell website's list
of victims,
not blood on cloth, but
names, ages.
I have known the stories,
the numbers,
one hundred forty six dead,
too many to imagine.
Reading now for research’s sake
I'd tried to distance myself,
but my heart falters.
I read my own name:
Sixteen years old.
Suddenly these girls are more
than names on a list
more than digital ink.
I picture myself at sixteen:
unable to tame Italian curls,
Papa telling me the stories
his Italian Mama told him.
Perhaps she knew those same stories.
Perhaps she too fought
with her brother,
but loved him all the same.
Who might she have been,
I wonder. What dreams did she hold
in her heart,
and what prayers did she think

as she leaped?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sonnet for the Seven,

April 3rd 1911                                                                                                                                                            Evergreen Cemetery                        

The rain came down and soaked the streets too late
too late to stop the flames that caused such pain
for our city. And as we walked, the weight
upon our hearts did break the floodgate chain.

"Abide with me, Abide with me," we sang.
Half-million strong we gathered round and cried
with Jew and Gentile, all our voices rang,
remembering the day our daughters died.

But for these sev'n I only placed my stone
upon the graves, and others did so, too.
We could not let them be buried alone,
they had no names or faces that we knew.

So in this April rain, we vigil keep
and for their mothers, sisters all, we weep.

Thursday, March 6, 2014


Red ink spiders across the page,
slashing out words, underscoring sentences 
that don't make sense. 
Script jagged from frustration
spells out the problems:
"Is that your thesis?" 
"Is that?"
"I’m confused-- the only claim you make
is that people don’t care about history classes
but it’s vaguely worded;
is that your thesis?" 
And later in the body paragraphs-- more like
hide the body, because you murdered
the English language-- more ink.
"Do you mean "poignant?" "
"That is a run-on sentence AND
a sentence fragment both at once. How?" 
and of course:
"Citation needed."
"Cite this" 
"For the love of--
you have one footnote in this whole paper!" 
Go back and re-read it ,
this time for content again, 
this time focus on what is there, not 
what is missing.
"No, some states do have standardized
testing for history, 
I had it for ten years."
"What do you mean people in California 
don’t learn about civil rights?!?" 
"Actually not everyone discovers themselves
in high school, 
or learns what they want to stand for. "
"That is an opinion right there, don’t present it as fact. 
At least cite it." 
The paper is bleeding with edits now, 
gashed, scored, and annotated 
in two inch margins. 
On the final page
(note: no bibliography)
the harsh corrections stand out 
against the pale blue text copied 
from wikipedia.
"Wait, was that the thesis?"