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Sample Poems by Ellen Steinbaum

standing at the shore

afterwards we will
look at it and say
this was when we still or
this was before
but then we will not be
at that same soft moment
grouped in pastel shirts
the children giddy with being
on the beach at nearly bedtime
digging their toes into the sand
wild to escape to the waves
get their clothes wet
looking back we may see
the messy instant of everyone
trying to be perfect or
we may see it
framed by then
that minute
when we did not know where
we would be looking back from


Early morning early spring on
Duxbury Beach: we sweatered few
bend to the task, finding
the perfect rock, begin the

weigh, discard,
wait to be called,
listen for magic.
On shelled beaches, too,

we search for the unbroken
clam or whelk, fingernail pink, white,
craggy grey, recent confidante
of tides.

We add it to the bowl, the small
assortment on the desk and soon
we cannot tell which one
was Normandy, Nantucket,

Kiawah, Carmel, which
was from snorkeling, first baby’s
first umbrella’d beach, vacation
afterwards alone.

Closing the apartment of my
last, my favorite aunt, I found
her treasure rocks and shells
in bowls, on windowsills,

their histories of where and
when and how now

melted into
ground and air.

I brought them on the day we
gathered at her stone. We each
chose one to leave and one to
slip into a pocket, carry home.

One Photograph

She will not become my mother for another thirty years.
Her husband waits a quarter century into her future
and with him the war, letters, wounds.
Their home is not yet built, the molecules
and minutes of rooms and days
hang in the air.

What is here at this moment is the child
with her sisters all in white eyelet dresses their
mother has sewn, each dress slightly different.
In front, the two youngest sit, hands clasped. She
and the eldest stand behind them. Maybe their mother sits
nearby, proudly urging them into easy expressions, formal, not quite smiles.

The child who will be my mother is seven, maybe eight,
staring solemnly ahead, looking for some
wanted thing—not the simple hard longing for the
bicycle or prize behind the glass for which small damp change is
counted and recounted, but for what
she cannot name.

What would warm her,
fill her like soup
will flicker always
out of reach.

All of that is unknown at the moment of the
photograph. At that instant, perhaps she is thinking
if she concentrates, watches hard enough
it will be there soon, maybe just after
the shutter clicks.


the secrets.
the path.

yourself to magic
and the skill
of making fire.

On moonless nights
reweave the stories
thread by thread:
begin to sing

for Ricky

Primordial Soup

The week is measured out in dozens
of fragile hemispheres discarded,
their contents separated beaten.
In heavy bowls the mountain ranges rise.
With a mighty hand I whip them
until stiff but not dry.
With an outstretched arm I fold
their quick breath into the sturdy mix.

Sifting through yellowed recipes
I am surrounded by ghosts of
past and future
every generation
tasting fresh greens
flavored with salt,
teaching me the mix
of bitter with sweet
at this season of my
daughter's birth,
my father's death.

Vanished faces surface
like soft bubbles rising in the soup
as I puzzle the riddles of another spring
and wish next year to be
nowhere else
but here in my kitchen
by chickens and eggs.