Friday, April 26, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 26 - Nikky Finney

Nikky Finney, Last night

Seattle Arts and Lectures' Poetry Series, 4/25/13 


Be generous, she said
after rounds of stand-up applause
for the 10th grade WITS* poet
who read her poem
before Finney walked on stage
to more stand-up
from a Seattle audience
who made her feel,
she said, like a rock star.

Be generous she repeated.
Support your poets out loud.
Give them tools
to craft their work is
what Finney’s mother did
and her grandmother
and siblings
and her father too.
And then came Colleen McElroy
(in the audience)
who taught her excellence
and Lucille Clifton who,
finding the younger poet scrambling
and embarrassed at her door,
said:  Come on in child.
And then came Nikki Giovanni
whose own mother helped red-ink
Finney’s poems-in-progress.
and later paraded
them down the street.

Be generous, Finney said
support your kin
treat them as if
they are
already famous
so they 
to say
their poems
out loud.

Be generous,
so the poet
can tell
her stories.
and tell them

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

*Writers in the School

Thursday, April 25, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 25 - "Accident"



The son and father
whose parents were killed
and wife and baby injured
by a drunk driver
across from the school yard
heard about the accident
on the news.
He had a hunch it was his family
and raced over to Harborview 
Hospital to find his life
was over
as he had known it.
Flowers line the curbside
along NE 75th
where the family's bodies
laid strewn across the street,
the drunk driver
leaning on a police car
and a first responder
so shaken he can't work
the district
for the next two weeks. 
When he returns,
the first call
he gets 
is from a
whose house
got egged. 
What a relief ,
his body
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

PoMo2013 - poem 24 - "To the Aspiring Poet"


Poems are to be
used in everyday life
is my answer to the aspirng poet
who wants to publish in the New Yorker
and nowhere else, except maybe a
peer-review journal that makes you wait
a year or more before a committee
decides your work
meets its editorial needs.


What this aspiring poet doesn’t know
is that poetry needs to sing in the rain
it needs to come alive in the middle of an afternoon.
It needs to dance 
in the dark
of night.

It’s not just the poet who needs
Poems have needs too.
They need to be outside
everyday, in the fresh,
or the stale, air.


This aspiring poet does the work of poetry. She writes .
She attends poetry gatherings and discusses her work
with other writers.
She reads in open mikes
and once in awhile
gives her own fifteen-minute readings.
She  keeps a journal of her days
and a notebook full of poems.
Most of all, she reads poetry, lots of poetry.
She doesn’t need a famous magazine to tell her she’s a poet.
She already is and shouldn’t hide her work
in envelopes waiting to be read.
Send them out, I tell her.
Or post them on a blog.


But if I post them on my blog, she says,
the journals won’t accept them.
That’s their loss, I tell her.
Besides, the world is changing
The publishing world is.
Famous is not what it used to be.


The poem is a vehicle for responding
to current events, to the goings-on around you.
Poetry-making need not be a closed network,
unless you participate in making it so.
Speak your poems now, I advise this poet.
People are waiting to hear you. 
I'm waiting to hear you. 

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 23- "Fifth Grade"

Fifth Grade
  If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.
                                                                     - David Foster Wallace

When I was in elementary school,
I got A+’s in Handwriting.
In fifth grade, the only student
who came close to me in that subject
was a boy named Barry.
I don't know
what happened
to Barry and his handwriting
but mine led me
to hours of anguish.
I’d get all the way to the end of a page
without making a mistake
and then
on the last line
if my cursive wasn’t just right
and if an erasure
to expose my imperfections
I'd have to re-start.
My sister said I made her crazy
watching me
to my 5th grade-pen pal.
And you know the envelopes
had to be perfect too (but that's
another story).

For class, I wrote my stories
over and over again
and I wrote with a #3 pencil,
as if I didn’t want anybody
to see what I was writing.

Mother kept telling me
to use #2 pencils,
but the print
didn’t look as pretty
on the page.

To make a long story short:
I got A+ in Handwriting,
but I didn’t turn
my work in
on time.

This led people to think I was slow.
- Esther Altshul Helfgott

Monday, April 22, 2013

PoMo2013- poem 22 - A Woman Is

Circa 1946

A woman is

her body of work
which is
her thinking
inside her


Esther Altshul Helfgott

PoMo2013 Worth It - poem 21

Worth It

fight and fight
to stay alive
they die.
I don't get it.

If I believed
in God (for sure)
would my
questions be
the same?

On the other
the answers
don't matter.
It's the fight that's
worth it.
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Sunday, April 21, 2013

PoMo2013 "Call (My Baltimore) Sandy"

Today's To Do List

Call (My Baltimore) Sandy


Say hello to Sandy = half hour
Laugh with Sandy = one hour
Cry with Sandy = 15 minutes
Laugh with Sandy = half hour
Say goodbye to Sandy = 1 hour


Check your phone bill


-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Friday, April 19, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 19

Can't sleep

Even though I can't sleep
-  it's been hours -
the dog's snoring soothes me.

What's keeping me up
but a list of things:
Drunken drivers

Gas stations
in Washington,
Bad politicians,

Good things keep me up too:
The man at the diner 
who asked me out.
The library book 
I want to write in.
Tap dancing lessons.

My parents,
children ,
and siblings
The bowling
league I just

My book
coming out
this summer!

Life is good
because more people
are precious
than they are monstrous,
say the news

my dog's
warms mine.
I'll take her to the park--
if it doesn't rain.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

PoMo2013 - Poem 18

Artist Trust/Edge Reading

Seattle is a place to blossom as we turn the pages of our lives,    
an ideal place to grow into crone-hood.
                                       - Faye Reitman                                            

Eighteen cross-genre writers
reading five minutes each
take turns lavishing
personal idiosyncrasies
and tone
on a packed house
of language lovers.

I ask the woman sitting next to me,
tears streaming down her face.
why she's crying
and she says:

They're so good,
They've worked hard
and I'm proud of them.

I squeeze her hand
and the two of us hug
as if we knew
each other
long before

My friend Faye
up from California

I heard Seattle
was a reading town
But I didn't know
it was a place to blossom
in the basement of a book store
or on someone else's unseen page.
I think I'll move here.

And she did.
         -Esther Altshul Helfgott

PoMo2013 - Poem 17

Abe, Lisa & Hunter

Abe's Red Suspenders

He wore red socks too.
That's what caught my eye.
The red socks,
ski hat, and twinkly eyes.
He sat down next to me,
held out his hand
and said Hi.
I'm Abe.
What could I do
but shake his hand
and say Hi
back. Where you from,
he asked. Easy to tell
I wasn't from Seattle.
Baltimore, I said.
The Bronx, he announced
as if it were the center of the world
and it was to him, still,
albeit he'd been away from there
thirty years or more.

No coincidence we met
in a Jewish history class
at a neighborhood shul.
In Seattle, Jews
who never walked into a shul
before moving West
ended up in one just to hear familiar Ashkenazi sounds
to meet people who moved their hands when they talked -
I move mine a lot - so he liked me, not just for that
of course, but also because I liked his red socks
which I told him, and it made him smile.

At the time he wasn't wearing suspenders
but later, when we were married
at least ten years and he started wearing
them because his body was changing
and belts didn't work as well any more,
I liked them - those suspenders - too.
He's been gone almost three years now
and I still have the suspenders
but I threw the red socks out.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Thursday, April 18, 2013

PoMo2013-Poem 16


Food Poisoning

Shell fish dinner
brought me here
to Group Health
at the top.

Monday, April 15, 2013

PoMo2013- Poem 15 - Boston marathon

 Daughter's medal

All three of my children
     home tonight
are marathon runners
    in New York

Damn to the haters
          who would take
               their lives away.
You are despicable.

               There is no poetry
                       in the work you do.

Your purpose
                   is shame.

- Esther Altshul Helfgott

Sunday, April 14, 2013

PoMo2013 - Poem 14

oy, yoy, yoy

Time is
Seventeen hours to go!


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Poetry Month 2013 - Poem for Day 13 - "Inked in"

He inked me in on his calendar

                           -    For a grade school classmate
                              who now has a beard

Even though he has to schlep more miles
than he wants to and knows he will be fuming
at drivers along the way
my childhood friend agrees
to pick me up from Dulles airport
and drive me to Baltimore
for our elementary school

When I say it’s too much of a schlep,
too stressful in the rush-hour traffic
he says: I've already inked you in
on my calendar
and I don't have the eraser
you asked me for in second grade!
Airline and flight time, please?

I know this boy-man since first grade –
Mrs. Solomon’s class -
Louisa May Alcott’s P.S.#59,
Reisterstown Road and Keyworth Avenue,
Baltimore 15, Maryland.

He doesn't seem to have changed
since the Halloween party
he escorted me to in third grade
or the walk we took to Cooper’s Deli
on Oswego Avenue after a party
in sixth grade.

I've barely seen him since.
Yet he inks me in on his calendar
and won’t find the eraser
I asked him to pass me
across our desks
in second grade.

That's why I want to go back
to my elementary school reunion,
I tell a Seattle friend who asks me.
I still have family there,
mishpacha, however extended.

                        -Esther Altshul Helfgott


Friday, April 12, 2013

Norma Jean - Poetry Month 2013 - Day 12


Norma Jean

          -after Norma Barzman (1920 - )


Did you know
         because I didn’t
not until I read
Norma Barzman’s
memoir, The Red
and the Blacklist
that in 1947,
before Marilyn Monroe
was Marilyn Monroe
as we know her,
she was on her way
to a party at Vincent


(just after Liza was born)
and was stopped by police
at a road block.

A deputy sheriff, stopping every car
going up the hill toward the Minelli’s,
asked drivers: where are you going?
Not to 1290 Sunset Plaza Drive, are you?
he asked Norma.
Subversives live there.

The young blonde was irate
and promptly drove up the hill
and into the driveway
of 1290 Sunset Plaza Drive
and found Norma and Ben Barzman
sitting on their lawn.

The two Normas introduced themselves
and Ben went to make drinks
while drivers-by slowed down
and stalled in front of the Barzman house.
Norma Jean said: I don’t know what’s going on
and I don’t want to bring you bad news
but you’re being watched
and Ben said:
We were planning to have a meeting
for The Hollywood Ten.

Years later, expatriates in France the Barzmans
saw a newspaper photo of Marilyn Monroe
Hey!  Ben yelled, That girl! The blonde who warned us!
It was Marilyn Monroe.
She said her
name was Norma.
                                    -Esther Altshul Helfgott, 

The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of A Hollywood Expatriate (Thunder Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003) pp. 96-99


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Swimming a poem - Poetry Month 2013 - Day 11

Swimming a Poem

                        - for Hunter

Ian & Hunter


A fifteen year old
on his high school
swim team, Hunter
glides through water
as if he were a poem
slinging rhymes
in the air.
This young swimmer
working with his team mates
nothing less
than an orchestra
playing a concerto
for the rest of us.
His is an example
of a body in harmony
with itself, a teenager
home, school
and friendships
and who makes his grandma
proud. As does his dad,
Ian, who drives
his son
to practice,
waits for him
every day.
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Books as Wares, Poetry Month 2013 - Day 10

Books as Wares:
A response to those who think celebrating publications on Facebook is elitist

I would say that
intellectual elitism
one lords one’s way of life
and thinking
over someone else’s
way of life
and thinking
and that she believes
people who don't get
advanced degrees
for whatever reason -
lack of opportunity
and funds,
language challenges,
and so on -
are less than.

In another matter
or perhaps the same -
arrogance walks with
and assumes
an air of superiority
one who is overbearing in her claims.
Professors and teachers often
have this problem
because they're taught
and paid to be
expert in their subjects.
In my view,
the challenge for experts
is how to leave their professorial
and pedantic
in the classroom.
This is not to say 
that experts who write
and craft books
who spend their time editing and proofing
and reading and re-reading
so others can learn the subjects 
they're expert in,
should hide the finished work they do.

When their articles and books are published,
experts have as much right to show their wares -
that is what books and articles (and poems) are
wares (products of work)
as the hats of hat designers are wares
as the cabinets of cabinet makers are wares
and the bridges or houses of architects
and the working-pipes of plumbers
as the electrician’s exacting light-fixtures
as the hairstyles of hairdressers
are wares and the dance of the dancer.
Any ware, any product - especially books
in my opinion - working
to move our poor suffering
lot of humanity
is worthy
of Facebook
and celebration. 
-Esther Altshul Helfgott

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Poetry Month 2013 – Day 9

What does it mean to sleep with stuffed animals?

 Ian with his beloved Batman

To put one’s hopes and love
into a transitional object,
such as a teddy bear or hippo
or even a Wonder Woman doll?
Everyone has stuffed animals.
Sherry Turkle’s robots at MIT
have them.
They have toys and dolls
and vast numbers of other playthings.
But tell me,
do human children
really feel better
when they sleep with stuffed animals?
What does it mean to them?
I want to know
I’ve never slept with one -
 - Esther Altshul Helfgott

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Packages - for Jackie - Poetry Month 2013 - Day 8

The Packages 

                  -for Jackie

Inside the packages
she found on her steps this morning
were forty volumes of books she edited
and opened after her ten-mile run.
This girl-woman who is my daughter
produces more in  half a day
(keinahorah -
toi toi - the evil eye
shouldn't get her)
than most people
in weeks of whole days.
How she does this
is beyond me
 but for better or worse -
wear and tear on joints
notwithstanding -
this girl-woman
is a scholar
like the waitress
she was throughout
her school years,
looks intellectual elitism in the eye.
For that I am most proud,
and I promise to forgive her
the next time
she texts
talking to me.
        - Esther Altshul Helfgott



Sunday, April 07, 2013

Poetry Month 2013 - Day 7

Almost three years since his death and he still has my back

The way he looks at me from his picture frame
his eyes twinkling as if he were alive again
his nonchalant leaning on the ferry rail
his hair mussed
in the wind
the San Juan Islands
we just left
telling me:
take this trip

         -Esther Altshul Helfgott

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Poetry Month 2013 - Day 6

Point your bullet where ever you like in my body
I will die today, but my homeland will live tomorrow
Be careful, Palestine is a red line.
                                                   - Amer Nassar (d 2013, age 17)

No land is mine
If land belongs to any one
it belongs to God (not that I believe).
The path to peace
is mindset
not history
is not our destiny,
nor is a text
which people wrote
for social control
and self-protection,
not for neighborly love.
Criticize me if you wish (and I know you will)
but, as a Jew, I object when synagogues raise children
to make Aliyah – to occupy land and not make peace
and that a two-state solution
is still
out of reach.

Everyone needs a home,
a roof and food to eat
but home need not
is a religious concept
that fights peace
     - but implicitly -
on all sides.

My beloved aunt, may she rest in peace,
believed the land is “ours. We belong here,”
she told me before she died.
She was wrong,
and I protect her memory by saying so.

When I came home to America
which has always been my home
- and I’m grateful for it -
I was told by some that you just left Home.
To that, I say Bullshit.
I am a middle-class American Jew
with food to eat and medical care.
I have no right to complain
that I am not Home -
or that I don’t have a home -
just because I’m not in eretz yisrael.

As Jews, our place in the world
is to help others -
to perform mitzvot -
not to shoot.
That doesn’t mean we don’t protect ourselves
but as we protect ourselves
we place our arms around others
first and foremost
around a table
in a circle
not in front of
or behind
a red or a blue
or a green line.

As for religion,
how presumptuous to think that I -
or anyone else – male, female,
Christian, Muslim, or Jew -
might know (believer or not) what God wants.

What I do know is that people
want peace -
and not through war
and hatred
and killing.
We are not born to hate
but to seek comfort
and love
and to give it in return.

-Esther Altshul Helfgott