Since 1996 Volume XXI

 Gail Newman


Gail Newman was born in Germany, raised in Los Angeles, and lives in San Francisco where she works as a poet-teacher for California Poets in the Schools She was the co-publisher and editor of Room, a Women's Literary Journal and has edited Inside Out, a book of poetry lessons for teachers as well as two collections of children's poems, C is for California and Dear Earth. Of her own collection of poetry, One World (Moon Tide Press), former U. S. Poet Laureate Juan Filipe Herrera says “Newman locates the miracles in our lives, their music, voices, and intimacies.” Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals and anthologies including Canary, Prairie Schooner, Calyx, Hiram Poetry Review, Spillway, Naugatuck Poetry Review, Ghosts of the Holocaust, Prism, The Doll Collection, and The Northern California Jewish Journal


I Came into the World

I came into the world. 
My father was there, my mother.

I came into a room where the table was laid
as if for a banquet, figs on white plates,
cool water. Like a stranger, I stood aside, hesitant.

Music rose up and pushed against the ceiling,
shimmered there like a crystal chandelier.

People were singing. The floor shook with dance.
I came into a house where I was a stranger
and was made welcome.

My mother gave me her body, my father
his voice. I stood between them faltering.

The walls of the house rose up around us.
The roof shuddered with the sound of wind and rain.

Birds settled in the rafters. At night we could hear them,
              the shuffling of feathers, melodies marking territory,
saying this is mine, this is real.

Did You Ever Have a Family?

Yes. And a table. Chairs. My brother slept
in a bed beside my bed. 

Our voices were thick with singing                               
as we walked the rain-stained streets-                              

horse-stink, cabbages, the sky camouflaged
under chimney smoke from textile factories.

Home was everywhere in that place.
And we were the stories our parents told.

Did you ever have a family?

I did. It was winter.
We skated on the drugged frost of God’s breath   

as if the world was a frozen lake
and we in our mittens and cloth coats

could not see the cold clouds
rising from our own mouths.

Did you ever have a family?

My father carried in his pocket,
my hand, our paces in step, 

others walking toward us in black fedoras
and colored kerchiefs, a crunch

underfoot of dry leaves, snow,
apple blossoms, earth. 

One was taken, then another.
The rooms of the houses shrank with loss.

Neighbors pulled shirts and socks, still damp, in from the line.
Children were kept indoors.

A woman was hauled by her hair
down a public street and no one called out.

They looked away. They said later they did not see-
in open daylight, at the newsstand, in front of the café-


My mother is hanging laundry on the line.
As usual it’s summer,
the light tender and trembling.
She snaps wooden clothespins onto shirts,
slips, white socks, her mouth full of pins.
From the upstairs window I watch her move
around the yard in a flowered house dress
that ties in back like an apron.
Behind her the insect drone of freeway traffic,
and beyond the alley heading west
lies the ocean, white shoulders
of sand, palm trees and the green horizon.
As she works, stringing up long sheets and pillow cases,
she lifts her arms and looks toward the window
where I watch, but she can’t see me as I pull back
behind the Venetian blinds. I can see the part in her hair,
her pale calves and low-heeled shoes,
eyes squinting through thick glasses.
It’s as if all my life I’ve been watching her like this,
a voyeur looking out of a window
as if there were something in that body
I could for a short time borrow or store away.

Science Lesson

The teacher said, Mark
a small square somewhere
outside and watch, so my son
the whirling dervish, the child 
with wings on his feet, that mad
hatter tossing time over his shoulder,
sat still for fifteen minutes or more.
He saw an ant straddle the ledge                                  
of a leaf and totter there before falling.
He saw a pebble mossed with soil
and the way the sun showered it with light,
and pollen spinning off petals.                                          
He gazed deep at the earth, 
his face reflected in dewed grass,
as shadows gathered in folds of darkness
when a cloud passed over the sun.
The ground heaved and trembled 
above the industry of a burrowing beetle,
and a yellow-bellied spider rode
a thread of shining filament
from the tip of a twig 
in the space
it took my boy’s heart to beat 
and breath to gather in his chest
as he crouched, knees bent,
hair along his arms a-shiver.             

The Dispossessed


He left behind his mother’s shadow falling like grain
      in the doorway of the house.

He left the smoke of his father’s cold breath
   in the shed beside the horses.

He left the lake, a wooden boat, girls’
    hands dangling in the eddies.

He left the lark and the cherry tree
     and the bundled  lilacs dripping from branches.

He left his sewing needles and thread and woolen cloth
   cut in patterns on the table.

He left behind his name and the work of his hands
    and went wandering

a refugee with empty pockets and cardboard in his shoes.


She left her father’s shoes, laces untied, polished,
   beside the suitcase in the hallway.

She left her schoolbooks, honor badge
   and application to the University.

She left buildings stacked like dominoes and the statue 
    in the plaza where four streets converged.

She left songs spilling like rain in the courtyard
  where women washed laundry in a tin tub.                   

She left the croon of pigeons in the park roosting in dusty trees,
       the Mandelbrot and Babka in the bakery.

She left behind her name and good young body
       and went wandering

a refugee with shorn hair and a broken comb

Copyright © 2018 by Gail Newman. All Rights Reserved

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