23/30 Poems in November: Every year around this time

photo-1470165511815-34e78ff7a111Every year around this time
I turn into a small animal,
circle myself into a sunken nest
protected from harsh winds
and conditions too stark to bear.

If you look, you will not see me
there beneath the knee-deep leaves,
nor will I poke my head out
without the cover of darkest night.

When the sun grows so meek,
resigned as a child who can’t win
his own game, the tip of my tail
will reach round to the tip of my nose
and the light will throw itself back
to its meager source.

Here I shall stay, still and unmoving
until some spring day when ice
cracks like battered glass, begins
to flow again as I unfurl, remembering
the other shapes I make, with legs
that run, and tail uncurled.

Then I’ll sniff and see who’s come
to search. I’ll lurch at first on all fours
before my stride returns. I’ll gnaw
on the tenderest greens, call out
to the northward birds and back,
and meet the world again,
after this underground season.



18/30 Poems in November: Do Not Think Like Me

photo-1455037348028-ed7650360518We will not be afraid of the world. No.
We will go out into it, with heads covered
and long skirts or mini-skirts and combat boots,
with ink on our skin, with love in our mouths,
with sound and fury, we will go out.
We will not be afraid of the world. No.
We will go out into it, with arms linked,
pounding pavement, pounding headaches,
we will go tearing up your arrogance, tearing
down your ignorance, seeing that truth
and beauty always win and refusing
your terror dressed in suits and ties.
Give me a suit and tie, tie my hands
if you must, tie me to this chair and I will gag
on every order you give, I will denounce
your laws and my sisters will cut me free.
I will throw my body in front of theirs,
throw my body in front of a child’s,
throw my body in front of my brother’s body.
I will not be afraid of the world. No.
I will not stand for your accusations
of hysteria or overreaction. No.
I will not watch you drag away my neighbors,
deface my father’s door or wait for things
to get more severe before speaking out.
Will my home be marked or can I offer
safe harbor? This is not about saviors
but movements, but masses of voices
rising not in unison but in the dissonance
of dissidence. Do not think like me. No.
Think for yourself. Think with your feet,
with your eyes, with your money,
with your heart, with your conscience.
But just think. Because not thinking
is how being afraid of the world begins.
Not thinking is how we begin to close
ranks, close eyes, close hearts, close
doors. Do not be afraid of the world.
Go out into it. Go out into it now.


#30poemsinnovember is a literary fundraiser for Center for New Americans. Center for New Americans welcomes and serves immigrants in Western Massachusetts with free English classes and a range of support services. For more information, please visit cnam.org This year, we aim to raise $30,000.

Writers do their part by writing one poem each day in November. Friends and family do their part by donating to support this effort. Powerful new poems and financial contributions translate to community support for immigrants.

Visit my personal donation page and help me reach my $500 goal.

17/30 Poems in November: Salt Cracker Girl

px00234_9I seem to be writing a lot of poems lately
about people standing behind me
in line at grocery stores.
(I must be one of those people
who’s always forgetting that one item —
paper towels, butter —
and running back to the store.)

Today, it was a young woman, alone.
I kept stealing
glances at her ghostly face
and expressionless eyes.
She was buying two boxes of crackers.
Salt crackers but not Saltines —
I didn’t recognize the brand

and it didn’t matter. What mattered
was the matted fur
on her black wool peacoat,
and how heavily it hung
on her concave frame.
She wore corduroys the color
of cat vomit
and though the coat came to her knees

I could see her legs
were stick thin.
I remembered
when my wife was so sick
we feared for her life,
how horrifically thin she’d grown
after living on rice
alone for months,
not by choice, because of disease.

But there was something
about this girl-woman;
it was eerie and sad,
how I could hear her thoughts
as she caught my backwards glimpse:
I imagined her thinking I thought
she was gross for buying
two boxes of crackers.

I imagined she intended to make
those crackers last a week.
That she’d dole them out
in painstakingly tiny bites,
not allowing herself more
than three a day.

I was making this up. I know
not all thin people are sick. But
everything in me — my younger self
swinging wildly between anorexic
and bulimic behaviors —
my older self, a bona fide Jewish mother
who no longer self-abuses
(at least not physically)

wanted to say something to her,
to gently say, “Excuse me”
as she exited the store
behind me. To say, “I know this

is none of my business, but –”
at which point, maybe
she would have cut me off,
deservedly so — “You’re right,
it’s none of your fucking business.”

Or maybe she would have listened.
Maybe her black, marble-like eyes
inside those deep sockets that looked
like she’d sobbed for hours
before cleaning herself up
to get the ritual crackers
would have filled with tears.

But I didn’t. Instead, I paid
and she paid. I walked to my car
and she walked to her car.
We will probably never see
each other again.

Maybe tonight she’s staring down
one of those boxes,
and the salt crackers are taunting her
but she tells herself she’s stronger.
Her cat nudges her calfs,
weaving figure eights around her ankles.

She reaches down to pet him,
flashing back to the woman
ahead of her in line at the grocery
who was lousy
at hiding her concern.

Keep your concern,
the girl
says out loud. Leave me alone. 

14/30 Poems in November: Refuge

The woods haven’t always
welcomed me but today
they did.

Strangers haven’t always
greeted me kindly but today
they smiled hello.

Once, I would have been afraid
of this hiding place.
Today, I sought it out.

Once, I’d have been terrified
of dogs running
in my direction.

Today, I opened my hands
to their tongues,
stroked their heads.

In another lifetime,
I fled to the woods
for survival.

I failed
to save my child,
my sister. Never again.

Today, once again,
the woods were refuge,
now of a different sort.

A place to touch
into peace. A refusal.
A pause. A quiet roar.



Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, MA: I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.

13/30 Poems in November: Bone Tired

photo-1445127891637-6884935d9a02My bones stopped speaking to me
when I was busy feeding my kids.
They just stopped. They carried on
carrying me, but the conversations
grew quiet between us. I was busy
paying the bills. I was busy taking
care of business. I was busy being
busy so my bones bought a ticket
to the matinee and left me sitting
at the table wishing someone else
would make dinner. I was busy
ranting and raving. My bones
started a secret group to extol
the benefits of bone broth.
My bones creaked and ached
and told me to straighten up
my act. I can’t straighten up,
I told my bones. I’m gay.
They didn’t laugh. My sense
of humor isn’t what it never
was and my pulse is still
racing from all the pills
I’m glad I didn’t take.
The state of our great nation
has never been less great
and my bones were last seen
walking without me somewhere
in the mid-Atlantic states.
When I’m less busy, I’ll find
them at a roadside diner, I bet
they’ll be talking up the server
and finding out what time
she gets off, where she gets
off voting against them
when she herself’s no better
under the new regime.
My bones will see me
coming and assemble
themselves in some new
configuration, they’ll slip
the server a tip and slap
me on the wrist and say
where the hell were you
all that time? Busy, I’ll say.
I was busy and didn’t
notice that you were gone.



Donate to my efforts to support the Center For New Americans in Northampton, Mass! I’m halfway to my $500 fundraising goal and every bit helps.