The following was printed in the Jan. 4, 2024 edition of the newspaper:
In December 2023, the New York Times Magazine announced that it was ending its poetry feature after nine years. We asked Brooklynites to submit their poems about Brooklyn to be published here.
Do you have some verse about our borough you would like to share? Send it to [email protected]. Please include your name as you would like it to appear, as well as a 2-3 sentence bio and any acknowledgements of where your submitted poems may have previously appeared. Submitting your material does not guarantee it will be published. Please note that all poems will be printed centered due to the formatting of our newspaper.
This week, our featured poets are Melissa Eeftherion and Lesléa Newman.
Ode to a Fire Hydrant in Bensonhurst
By Melissa Eeftherion
(previously published in Ovunque Siamo)
O johnny-pump –
You wear your gushing heart like a sieve
How you adorned us street kids
With relief from the
How you lifted us into
your arms as though
we were loved.
By Melissa Eeftherion
(previously published in Lunch Ticket)
ocean ellipsis mouth
we catch ourselves
a grumble in the time gap
maw’s energetic swallow
her beast, her quickening
where were all the murderous
bowlegged dangers i avoided
rollerskating down Mermaid Avenue
back when tides washed the back legs of youth’s agency
there in the subatomic catacomb
an organism of prisms
sold in the back junk shops
i washed my poverty in anonymous
erotic paperbacks i washed
my ideas about poverty through
the camera’s ground glass
the smiling was a circle
i swung to – the sun
beat the boardwalk and its
nostalgic catastrophe of magics
a map of gaslight gutter
rainbows i followed to the sea
Melissa Eleftherion (she/they) is a writer, a librarian, and a visual artist. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she is the author of field guide to autobiography (The Operating System, 2018), gutter rainbows (Querencia Press, 2024), & 12 chapbooks from various presses. Melissa currently lives in Northern California where she manages the Ukiah Branch Library, curates the LOBA Reading Series, & serves as Ukiah Poet Laureate Emeritus.
Ode to a Knish Shop
By Lesléa Newman
Mrs. Stahl’s sold kasha knishes,
Oy gevalt, were they delicious!
To eat one was to have a feast
for each one weighed a pound at least.
When I was young, they cost a nickel
(cheaper than a kosher pickle).
In Brighton Beach, beneath the el
seduced by that arresting smell,
I’d take the last place in the queue
on Coney Island Avenue
then perch upon a worn red stool
and try my hardest not to drool
as I watched Mrs. Stahl herself
pluck knishes from a metal shelf.
She served them piping hot with pride
(the sign outside bragged “Baked Not Fried”).
The pastry, bigger than my fist
caressed my tongue, like being kissed.
So savory, so plump, so sweet,
that knish knocked me right off my feet.
The outside dough was parchment-thin
yet strong enough to hold within
buckwheat groats that smelled of earth
and added inches to my girth.
But in those days I didn’t care
a whit about my derrière.
That kasha knish was heaven-sent,
no nickel ever better spent.
By Lesléa Newman
(from Signs of Love)
On summer nights after the sand and sea salt
were scrubbed out of every inch of me
I’d lie on the couch in a baby blue nightie,
feet tucked under
wet hair streaming down my back,
listening to my mother
frying something in the kitchen
and my father singing in the shower
as the rest of the world disappeared
into the descending darkness
that surrounded us all safely
as the blanket tucked up to my chin
when I’d lie in my bed with a full belly
lulled by the murmur of grownup voices
rising and falling like waves
while I dreamed of floating on my back
in the steel blue space between ocean and sky
By Lesléa Newman
(from Nobody’s Mother, Orchard House Press)
At fourteen my mother cuts a sharp
figure: in sleeveless white blouse,
denim pedal pushers, black sneakers
and no socks, she is already tougher
than the overcooked meat
she refuses to eat
when my grandmother
pushes it toward her every night.
“Take a bite. So stubborn you are,”
my grandmother shrieks, throwing up
her hands in disgust at her daughter
who—is it possible?— is even more
impossible than she was as a child.
But now hours remain
before supper, the sun still high
in the sky an unblinking eye
that can’t see my mother hidden
behind the brick apartment building
she calls home along with half
of Brooklyn. Or so it seems.
My grandmother who has eyes
in the back of her head
can’t see her either. This secret
place is my mother’s room
of her own. She leans against
cool brick, the scratchy hardness
a comfort to her bare arm
and lights up the first cigarette
of her life. It tastes good
this forbidden bitterness
this sweet piece of heat
held between two fingers
slender as the long white stem
of chalk her French teacher
slashes across the board
to show my mother where to put
her lousy Brooklyn accent. No namby-pamby
goody goody Mademoiselle, my mother
inhales like a pro, exhales with a sigh
of deep satisfaction like someone
languishing in bed, someone who doesn’t
have homework to do, dishes to wash,
a mother to ignore, a life
to escape. It’s love at first
puff, this Chesterfield King
and my tough little mother.
She tries blowing a smoke ring,
succeeds, watches it vanish
into thin air, wishes she could
follow. Inhales again, lets smoke
stream out of both nostrils
like the fire-breathing dragon
in a story book she read
long ago when she was a child.
Takes another drag, blows it out
retreats behind a cloud
of blue-grey smoke that softens
the world in front of her burning
eyes. Keeps going until she is down
to a nub, stubs it out underfoot
instantly lights up another, thinks:
all right, I can do this. And does.
Lesléa Newman has created 85 books for readers of all ages including the dual memoir-in-verse, I Carry My Mother and I Wish My Father, the novel-in-verse, October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, and Always Matt: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard. She has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. From 2008-2010, she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA.