Brooklyn Poetry Feature: Melissa Eleftherion & Lesléa Newman

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 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

volcanic pavement

How you lifted us into

your arms as though

we were loved.


gutter maps

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

(from Lovely)

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.


Brighton Beach

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


first love

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.

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