(published in Persimmon Tree, winner of Western States Poetry Competition)


On the sidewalk soapbox in East Flatbush

my mother called out lines from leaflets

by the Young Communist League, 

collar of her brown woolen coat 

buttoned tight against the chill. 

Some, hurrying home with herring, 

sour pickles, sweet cream and strawberries, 

stopped to listen as the sky grew dim 

and haloed light from street lamps shone. 


Workers Unite! And they did for a while 

like bright coins in a purse make a dollar. 

It had some good in it – at the steel mills, 

actors studios, government bureaus. 

And there was a family feeling around 

the table covered in red-checked 

oil cloth, set with borscht, roast chicken, 

cole slaw, and coffee cake.


They were smart, they’d read Marx’s 

Manifesto. They tossed their hot-potato 

opinions, each in their own eyes scathingly 

correct, but not heard by any of the others 

as their burning fists hit the table and my heart 

leaped but could not find cover in its ribbed cage.   


They took the Fifth Amendment, 

did not name names though their jobs 

were at stake and there were children 

to feed. Small ancillary soldiers, we sat 

at one end of the table, eating our kugel 

in silence. One of the hard-liners sat 

opposite me. I looked in the mirror behind him. 

“Am I blocking your view?” he quipped. 

Fifteen and not keen on dialectical materialism, 

I’d been wondering if I was pretty.


When the sky grew dim, an army of fireflies 

came. The boys tore off their pale lime lights 

but I saved one in a jar. While the grownups 

expounded their righteousness, I watched it light up, 

do what fireflies do –warn away a predator, 

defend its territory, look for a mate. 

But it was alone, apart from the others — 

and the etching on the glass obscured its shining.