Nancy Shiffrin is a poet, critic and teacher.  Her poetry collections are Game With Variations and The Vast Unknowing, second editionforthcoming from Infinity Publishing. She earned her MA studying with Anais Nin, her PhD at The Union Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio studying Jewish-American Literature. Her work has won awards and honorable mentions from The Academy of American Poets, The Alice Jackson Foundation, The Poetry Society of America, The Pushcart Prizes, and The Dora Teitelbaum Foundation.  She has written about poets and poetry for the Los Angeles Times, The Advocate, The Outlook: The Progressive JewishMagazine and others. Through Creative Writing Services, her literary arts consultancy, she helps aspiring writers achieve publication and personal satisfaction. She grew up near Rockaway Beach in New York City, an area very hard hit by hurricane Sandy. The rough surf she once played in becomes a metaphor for grieving in the following poem.

 

THE ROUGH SURF

the rough surf close to land
calls to the Beachcomber
hair knotted from wind
gathering pieces of broken beer bottle
knocks Her down
sand churns up from the bottom
belches up kelp and driftwood
She opens her eyes to foamy greenness
salt stings

a face appears in the water
a hand reaches out
the Sister/Friend with auburn curls
long dead
Who wishes to help and cannot?
where has She come from?
why is Her dog barking?
why can't She stay and bake bread?

the boat
the Beachcomber can no longer see
sails toward a shifting horizon
is the Beloved on the boat?
the One who
pried open the stuck lid of the honey jar?
when will He complete His journey?

the Beachcomber clenches
a piece of royal-blue glass
weathered to gem-like perfection
weeps for the elegies She cannot write
battered by the churning current
knowing better than to swim in this maelstrom
She curls up and is thrust out
into mud and glaring sunlight

From The Vast Unknowing (updated 2013)   

 

WHERE ARE YOU?  9/11/2001 ten years after  

sucker punch shock  air suddenly toxic
the Dear Friend emerging from his office
did you hear? New York has been hit
calling home  phone lines jammed   finally
the classmate  the Sister asking
can you write some poems?
we're distributing food  consoling families
across the Atlantic
a critic disparages my “Lamentation”
chicken soup banal  last line gratuitous
how can it be true  the poet wasn't there

I  am 6 years old in my lavender birthday dress
lined up for inspection
no handkerchief  poor penmanship
no gold star
and I am here in my office
advising a student who has not turned in work
“I was raped” Amanda whispers
she remembers the taste  was it pee or that other thing
some got on her shirt
she knows to keep the evidence
she watches crime shows on TV
she is so sorry
she should have called the police right away
she can't afford another failing semester
next door
jazz rhythms thump on an out-of-tune piano
I take Amanda outside
we marvel at Canada Geese whose path has changed

somewhere -- on film
a girl runs through the streets blue tunic aflame
a  man follows dousing kerosene
children with seared eyeballs roam the streets
a boy answers questions  is beaten when correct
and the first-grader in the lavender dress
has never been to Mumbai so she
cannot evaluate the joyous ballet
when the million dollars is finally won

Amanda claims she hasn't received my eminders
she doesn't dare go home
her parents will put her in a burkha
they'll never let her out again
she shows me her new computer
she wants me to appreciate her graffiti
she's been busted for tagging
she feels ripped apart inside
should she just go away?
what can she do to pass my class?
she loves Shakespeare
may she write what it does for her
when the sonnet turns around?

breathing here with the other writers
fog over the Pacific  sun breaking through
ocean swelling to meet the highway
I pray for Amanda
she will weep and accept consolation
she will make her police report
she will complete her essay
she will earn her degree
I will not hug her
I will not shoot the man I suspect
though he's been reported before

Was it rape?
I don't know I wasn't there
I am here
in this gray room where the doctor
won't yet take my vestigial girlhood
grieving the Dear Friend
always the 6 year old in the lavender dress
no handkerchief  dreadful penmanship 
laboring to find fresh images for terror
confused about the assignment

From The Vast Unknowing (updated 2013) 

 

BY THESE I KNOW

eyes
            cerulean  gleaming as he bruises my thigh
            by my hands clutching his hair
fingers
            thick wise working my nipples
            demanding my juices sounds
            by my belly’s new softness
sweat
            tasting of chocolate and wine
            by my tongue licking his skin as he sleeps
arms
            cradling my dreams
            by my comfort mornings in their circle
            reading in bed before he awakes
feet
            firm on the ground as he reads my work
            by a brace of new poems grow

 

 

Nancy Shiffrin

"THE VAST UNKNOWING collects a wide spectrum of poetry from Nancy Shiffrin... One of her main questions is Who are we? What made us that person?

'She explores a number of sources of our identity....(in the poem) “My Shoah” she brings together many of her disparate threads­family, religion, evil details from her personal history­and makes them work together. When she is at her best, as in this poem, Shiffrin produces deep powerful poetry."

G. Murray Thomas, poetix.net

 

 

2013 Nancy Shiffrin


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