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Sample Poems by Ellen Steinbaum


Before I Met Him

I was fine
gave dinner parties
grew a garden
read the papers
paid my bills
repainted rooms and
bought new dishes
went to ballets
wrote my will
had a new book out
visited family
tried new recipes
tried new wines
made new friends and
wrote new poems
had (small) adventures
I was fine
I was fine
had (small) adventures
wrote new poems
made new friends and
tried new wines
tried new recipes
visited family
had a new book out
wrote my will
went to ballets
bought new dishes
repainted rooms and
paid my bills
grew a garden
gave dinner parties
I was fine
I was fine


widow's walk

she didn't want to
want again
yearn for arms
around her
arms holding her
new kisses
skin warmed
by new hands

she didn't want to dance
drop dizzily
from brightness
to deep shadow
wanted to go instead
on her even way
stay small and
folded from the light
never venture
into crowded streets

she never wanted
she never
dreamed


Valentina Tereshkova Turns 70

The first woman in space said going to Mars had been a life-long dream: "I am ready to fly there and never come back."

most of all the darkness
no tiring light
no endless looking up
just the rising out
away from solid small

ah the weight of the world
they sigh in their tea or
nod over their papers
how the weight falls away
they say

they can never know
how the weight
rides beside you
a coat hanging
patient in the closet

how you return hard
slip your arms into
the waiting sleeves
feel the thick cloth settle
on your shoulders

Brave Heart

We know the certain circularity,
but it is February in New England,
grey and easy to lose heart.
One warm day
comforts us and gives us hope before
the cold descends again. Yet,
between patches of old snow
studded with newspaper shreds
and last fall's leaves,
this lone snowdrop
pushes up beside the front walk,
head bowed, not unexpected, yet
somehow a surprise, radiant in its
daring, in its tender risk to be here.
The Secret Life of Wallets

They seem to want to lose themselves,
get away, give us the slip, like energetic
hounds always straining at the leash. Smooth
with our constant tiring need, they wait for
the chance to slide from pockets, hide in
sofa cushions. Then the stunning re-
appearance as they drop into the lives of
our years-later selves, with expired
coupons, faded snapshots, library cards
worn to velvet at the edge, perhaps some cash.

It happens all the time, it seems-they hide
behind duct work in Eau Claire, throw
themselves into Boston Harbor, get wedged
into a tree trunk in Central Park. One fell
from a ceiling panel of the childhood
home of the childhood friend of a man
who became mayor of Tulsa.

And then, adventures done, they return
in the hands of strangers proud to bring us
the surprise and eager for our stories. We shake
our heads, marvel at these things we carried
with us, familiar as our hands, those things
we thought were ours.


How to Bear It

Try not to guard yourself,
holding rigid, lips pressed
thin, toes tight: it will not

help. Instead, pull your
shoulders down and soften
into it: all defense is an

illusion. Breathe in until
what was and what arrives
mix together, become

your new blood,
become what
you are now.



Adele at 100

thinks she may not
want to die yet after all,
after all the neat parceling
of books and paintings and
the last Nakashima chest sold
for rent and home health aides.
She thought last year would be
her last-and good with all that
loss and pain, discussed with
medical schools which one should
have her shell. But now she thinks
she may not want to go,
tells the tactful doctor, not yet.
She wants to see what else happens.


in memory of Adele P. Margolis 1909-2009