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Myra Shapiro: 5 Poems

THE CORSET | TO JERUSALEM, 1990 | ON BEING PUSHED WHEN I WAS SEVEN | MARRIAGE: FEBRUARY, 1953 | FAMILY JOKES


Myra Shapiro, born in the Bronx, returned to live in New York after forty- five years in Georgia and Tennessee where she married, raised two daughters and worked as a librarian and teacher of English. Her poems have appeared in Harvard Review, The Ohio Review, River Styx, Pearl, Ploughshares, The Poetry Miscellany, Southern Indiana Review, and other journals, and in many anthologies. She was awarded the New School's Dylan Thomas Poetry Award and is the recipient of two fellowships from The MacDowell Colony. She serves on the Board of Directors of Poets House in New York City, a library and meeting place for poets. I'll See You Thursday was her first full- length book. She has read her work widely, appearing at various venues throughout the country. These samples of her work are taken from I'll See You Thursday (Blue Sofa Press, edited by Robert Bly, © 1996, distributed by Ally Press, 524 Orleans St., St. Paul MN. 55107, 1-800-792-3002.) and are fully Copyright by the author with all rights reserved.

THE CORSET

The corset of my Tante Annie
held her to the symmetry
of her youth--an immigrant
sent south to help her uncle
tend his store (I want to shelter her--
the broken English, the strangeness
of a Jew, of a body at fourteen).
She was alone. Four boys ganged her.
For one year she had to stay in an asylum.

No one told. North, she met her husband
whose artistic, fluent ways enabled her
to ripple like a fountain. But not so fast--

first she grew fat, so that each morning,
bone by bone, a corset laced the chaos
to its parts: full breasts, slim waist,
round hips: a figure eight to match my age
those summer nights I shared her room
and saw the miracle, how, stay by stay,
lace by lace, she loosened the reined flesh
and sent it tumbling--ahh a machaiah! --
fold by fold, sigh by sigh, the drench of it
so delicious I told everyone
when I was grown I wanted fat
like hers, vast and operatic.

TO JERUSALEM, 1990

It's a sheroot, that's what
Israelis call a jitney, a car for hire,
layering nine people--more--in tiers,
our baggage rope-tied overhead
like the upper layer in a dig, t
he jumble of us a somehow-

linked-together carload underneath.
Three Hassidim (black coats, black hats)
insist on sitting separate;
they climb in back. No smile, no greeting,
they want no part of me, a woman
without a wig or scarf to hide my hair.

One cradles a little girl on his lap
whispering to her from time to time,
not in Hebrew but in Yiddish:
Mameleh, du vilst shpillen?--
language of my childhood, labials that cling
like steamed milk to its cup.

So when the man who coos the child
tells the others where he lives is good--
you don't see any gentiles, you don't see
any dirt--me zet nit kayn goy,
me zet nit kayn shmutz -- I burn.
He means my son-in-law
is filth, my daughter's love
is unacceptable. In sounds that sing
he spits. This is the homeland, we
are related, but home, he says, is his.
There it is--Jerusalen--suddenly
on its hill--and I am not prepared.

ON BEING PUSHED WHEN I WAS SEVEN

He threw me in the bay
and I refused to rise.
A friend convinced him
children swim by nature.
So would I. His child,
daughter of the show-off
fighter, I held myself
down, damned
if I'd perform
for any father's friend
who never even glanced
at me. And down there
I took the time
to swear and plan and look
at bubbles coming from my mouth.
Those men who pulled me
out, they had to pump
like mad. They were the ones
who had to dance.

MARRIAGE: FEBRUARY, 1953

The night before our wedding day I took
A fit. My mother, who said she hadn't cried
Like that when her first baby died, shook
Me--too many fittings? showers?--to take pride
In my fine man, in what I'd planned: angora
Sweater, dinners by candlelight, perfume
On my arms, White Shoulders, its aroma
Would take us to an island place, a room
Unknown, our very own. Pioneers. Married
I cooked, he waited to be fed. His work
Did not go well, we moved. Pumpkin-headed
I wandered aisles, staring. Pick up. Put back.
Spring. On Hibiscus Court hibiscus bloomed.
I longed to be back home, getting married.

FAMILY JOKES

"He hath made me to laugh, so that all who hear
will laugh with me." Sarah, GENESIS 21:6


They always liked a good joke. Even a bad one.
The one about the eighty year old man
who takes a young wife. "A fatal marriage,"
his neighbor warns. "Fatal, shmatal,"
he replies, "if she dies, I'll take another."

Jokes are what they had, my folks
who scared me so with troubles
and loud arguments. In the middle of
my mother's unfulfilled desires,
my father's failures, working day and night

to make a living--you call this living?!--
came the joke. The breather. The sun
to warm us. The moon was sex,
a mystery you needed to deflect
by making light: a young man

asks a young girl if she'd like to
take a walk in Prospect Park, and then
he's getting fresh with her. She protests,
"What do you think I am, a prostitute?!"
He says, "Who's talking about money?"

They laughed. Immigrants, they bundled
loss. I don't know when my mother coupled
sorrow with sweet impudence to coin
her favorite exit line: "If I live and be well I'll see you
tomorrow; if not, I'll see you Thursday."

Copyright © 2000 by Myra Shapiro. From her book, I'll See You Thursday, Blue Sofa Press, © 1996.

Madeline Tiger: The Family, The City, The Wilderness
(An Essay on Myra Shapiro's Poems)

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