Roberta Feins


. . . were exotic plants in steamy Grand Concourse
apartments, where wild ailanthus shouldered
through iron fences in shoddy courtyards,
and the dignified Hispanic elevator man banged

the cage shut on halls eternally smelling
of pot roast. My great-aunt, apron over
stuffed curves, lined face fine as strudel,
fussed at her husband with the shakes,

once a hatter, always a fierce socialist.
Radiators hissed behind cabbage-green curtains,
under scrolled mahogany chairs with horse-hair
seats, backs shawled with crocheted doilies.

Talk of family, pension, rude danger
all around. Accents of Middle Europe
from people sixty years in America, telling
jokes about Marilyn Monroe's kosher

mother-in-law, about Einstein and was he
good for the Jews?  If I had known
it would all be gone, that they would all
have moved from high-piled down mattresses

to beds of mahogany and concrete,
I would have written down what they said,
instead of sitting in the slippery armchair,
gobbling butter cookies, nose buried

in the Red Fairy Book, or staring
out the window at kids playing potsy,
dreaming of handsome princes and the deli
we'd visit soon, where I could fish

for sour pickles in a wooden barrel.
Delicate flesh of smoked whitefish wrapped
in its golden skin, the black and white
Yin and Yang of marinated herring.


The hand lifts up, then, open-palmed, comes down.
The show begins: the child's wild kick and flail.
Turning the crank you make it all start round:

the father spanking when the toy is wound.
His child's mouth gapes its O in voiceless wail.
His hand lifts up, then, open-palmed, comes down.

His tin legs—columns—rooted in the ground;
the hand on metal cheeks ignores their braille.
Winding the crank you make their act start round.

The toddler in gray-suited lap face down
no doubt deserves his birth into this jail.
The hand hails sin, then open-palmed, comes down.

He turns his head and wails without a sound.
His father's righteousness will never fail.
Turning the crank you make it all start round,

and cannot stop the wheels from where they're bound.
You set in gear this stagnant, bitter tale,
where hand lifts up, then, open-palmed, comes down
when you wind the crank.  You make the world go round.

Roberta Feins was born in New York and has also lived in North Carolina and (currently) Seattle. She works as a computer consultant.  She received her MFA in poetry from New England College in 2007. Roberta edits the e-zine Switched On Gutenberg (



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