Elizabeth J. Coleman


I want to be a surgeon, my son announced,
but since I’m scared of blood,

I’ll be a blind surgeon. And I who am scared
to let myself paint, will be a blind painter.

And for fear of mucking up my words, I’ll be
a poet without hands. For I am the daughter

of an engineer who was not allowed
to be an engineer, but I no longer know

what is fact and what is myth.
To honor my father, I will not die until

I’ve painted every New York street, written
an ode to each one, and taken the Circle Line

twenty times around our island, drunk
on cotton candy. The man on the phone

from the Philippines dealing
with my computer crash, keeps saying,

Now Elizabeth, I want you to remain calm.
Instead, I think of the acolyte Buddhist monks

sent nightly to the charnel house
to see what awaits us, and I am not afraid.

One Way of Looking at Grace

For 150 million years birds saw
their reflections only in the sea,

but now the last typewriter repair
shop in New York is going out

of business, and monk parrots
nest in Sheepshead Bay. Still

that fire escape casts a lovely shadow,
the way the wheel of a slow-moving

bicycle seems to slow time,
gorillas stay up all night to groom
their dead, and a woman in Ohio

who’s been laid off is giving every building
in town a new coat of paint.

What’s your name?  I ask the woman
at the post office who always takes my packages
and tells me about her cruises
to the Bahamas with her mother and sister,

and how much they love
the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Grace, she says, I thought you knew.

Our Garden in Summer

There are moments I think
I’ll never feel

         despair again:

a laugh, a glass of wine,
lunch with a friend, opening
a present one of the children

sent. I’m always surprised
to witness its return.

Sometimes halfway through

the night; my eyes open, and I catch

         a glimpse

of the abyss my parents, grandparents

slipped into; other people I forget

to miss. And wonder how many more

white cone-shaped hydrangea blossoms

I’ll see on that tree you

planted that’s grown tall on our hill

by the cabin
         nestled in the Catskills Park,

outside Phoenicia, beyond
Big Indian, past Oliverea, not
far from the road to Frost Valley

after you turn right—

"All three poems appear in The Fifth Generation by Elizabeth J. Coleman, Spuyten Duyvil, 2015)

About the Author

Elizabeth J. Coleman is the author of The Fifth Generation (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016) and Proof (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014), two poetry collections. Proof was a finalist for the University of Wisconsin Press’ Brittingham and Pollak prizes. She has also written Let My Ears Be Open (Finishing Line Press, 2013) and The Saint of Lost Things (Word Temple Press, 2009), two chapbooks of poems. Elizabeth is the translator into French of poet Lee Slonimsky’s Pythagoras in Love/Pythagore, Amoureux, a bilingual collection of sonnets (Folded Word Press, 2015). Elizabeth’s poetry has been published in numerous journals, and her poems appear in The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry, and Poetry in Medicine Anthology (Persea Books 2014). She received her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2012. Elizabeth is also an attorney. Elizabeth lives in Manhattan and Big Indian, New York. She can be visited on the Web at www.elizabethjcoleman.com.

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