Lesléa Newman


13 Ways of Looking at 9/11


First thought:
This is not good
for the Jews.
Second thought:
This is not good
for the lesbians.
Third thought:
this is not good
for me.


Even now—especially now
the body has its demands:
the belly cries to be fed.
But food can’t push past
the lump of tears
stuck in my throat
too terrified
to spill from my eyes


The cats, usually so aloof
except at feeding time
stay close
unaware, yet knowing
something heavy
soft and purring
is needed on my lap


Born in Brooklyn
raised on Long Island,
I moved to the East Village
to make my fortune
then fled the city
twenty years ago.
Still, in my heart
I am a New Yorker
so people call,
wanting to connect
wanting it to be their tragedy, too.
“Did you lose anyone?”
they ask, almost hopeful.
I am almost sorry to disappoint them.


The nation is on high alert.
I stock canned goods in the basement,
stash two hundred dollars
under my mattress
thinking, this and a token
will get me a ride on the subway.
Then I remember
where I live
there is no subway


The search dogs get depressed;
there are so few bodies to be found.
One team stages a mock recovery
to boost their dogs’ morale.
A burly firefighter
puts down his gear,
lies down in the rubble
and like a dog, plays dead.
Soon the search dogs start to bark
and wag their tails
and lick his face.
Soon the firefighter rises from the ashes
and slowly walks away


Bags and bags of body parts:
finger, ankle, elbow.
I remember lying in bed with you
looking at our feet sticking up
from under the blankets,
yours so brown and slender,
a perfect size six with ballerina arches;
mine so pale and squat and flat.
We joked about knowing each other in a crowd
solely by our feet.
Now I try to wrap my mind
around the unimaginable:
a knock at the door,
a strange man
brings me your right foot
and I am grateful even for that.


It doesn’t take long
for the newspapers
to quote letters
blaming Israel and the Jews.
It doesn’t take long
for the newspapers
to quote Jerry Falwell
blaming the feminists and the gays.
It doesn’t take long
for me to stop reading
the newspapers.


In my little town
at my little grocery store
a cashier refuses to check out
a woman he calls a “turban head,”
a woman I call a cancer survivor.


It is the longest we have gone
in thirteen years
without making love.
Finally I let you touch me
though I feel like glass
because those who died
will never enjoy
this gift again.
How dare I waste it?


A blank notebook page
an empty computer screen,
What is the point of writing anything?
Then an unbidden email from a fan:
“Thank you for bringing so much
beauty into my heart and the world.”
Tears tumble from my eyes.


I dream a child stands
on the twin towers
of her sturdy legs.
before she disappears
and I am running
across the Brooklyn Bridge,
naked and burning,
my skin falling away
like the Vietnamese girl
in that famous photo.
Everyone I ask for help
asks me, “Are you an Arab
or a Jew?” I tell them,
“I am a human being”
and everyone who hears my answer
vanishes like smoke


On Rosh Hashannah
There is a discussion group at the synagogue.
Our leader says when she first heard,
she was so angry she wanted to kill
somebody—anybody—and everybody
she spoke with felt the same way.
“Is there anyone here
who isn’t furious?” she asks.
I look around the circle,
then slowly raise my hand
like a white flag of surrender.

Lesléa Newman is the author of 55 books for adults and children
including the groundbreaking picture book, HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, the short story collection A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK and the young adult novel, JAILBAIT. She frequently writes about Jewish identity, lesbian identity, and the intersection and collision between the two. She is the Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA and a faculty member of the Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. To learn more about her work, visit www.lesleanewman.com.

(author retains copyright)