Donna J. Gelagotis Lee


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On the Edge of a City    



As Sheepshead Bay curves into

Brooklyn, the coastal street

shimmies into town,

its flashes of light like

the glitter of a Coney Island

Ferris wheel, or the Parachute

Jump pumping its way into

the sun-cut history. I am

drenched with a Brooklyn

afternoon, like the wet-bottomed

boats floating on a slice of muted

bay. Only one sailboat

drifts to shore, seemingly


but on course. Today, we

are just as randomly choosing

our direction, fastened

to a quick-moving city

in a lull. It is Sun-

day. It is brilliance

at work. It is a white

building shooting like a

flower to life, although the maple

and oak are leaning

towards fall,

their half-baked color

on the verge of a fantastic

catastrophe. There are many

windows casually playing

tick-tac-toe. And

even at 22 stories, a black-

winged butterfly does not

hesitate to comb the sheltered

air outside

our multilayered lives. We have

sprawled out. We are going on an

intentional trip, flashes of

light from bedecked and bejeweled lives

on a sensible outline of streets.

From Intersection on Neptune (The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2019), winner of the Prize Americana for Poetry.

First published in You Are Here: New York City Streets in Poetry (Peggy Garrison, Victoria Hallerman, and David Quintavalle, eds., P & Q Press, 2006).  

The Women

Into the circle of women
I entered, not knowing at first

the significance of their power
working as a double-pointed needle—

stitches, like deliberate words,
slipped into strong threads

in the small talk, gossip, and
debate, in the speech unfolding

that flung dice against the white walls
until they wore eyes

while winds lashed at the village square
with unruly tongues

and men wore the black
shadows of women unknowingly,

their deeds interwoven, their give-
and-take a bargaining that

surfaced even in the harshest
elements so that ultimately the women

wore this necklace of pride,
an adornment of rough rope,

frayed where it stretched and rubbed
against the corners of walls

they carefully walked around, which became
sinews of gold in the sunlight,

where their husbands escorted them,
beside their children, along the promenade,

their worth now displayed, portrayed
even to the other women who know

them silently, as they push the needle
through the last hours of afternoon,

as they hover
where the day does not move,

as they guide the thread along patterns
so neatly presented.

Unremarkable moment,

slip your hand down my shirt
and feel my heart beat
so that I can measure your
insatiable appetite and
pace myself. I hear your
tap out its beat
as your hand touches my breast,
cool, like the hands of statues
poised in a museum park
on the Peloponnese,
where hardly an echo
reverberates, the artist’s hands
now silenced on the broken
relics of an ancient age;
breeze, the reminder, drapes
the shaded grove of stone men,
stoic, phallic. Who would dance with
these headless men? If ancient stone
could come alive, what
would I feel here,
where women tended
the physical bodies of a nation,
washing its wounds, nurturing its young,
their hands moving over the skin
of politics while the words of men
chiseled into time?



From On the Altar of Greece (Gival Press, 2006),
winner of the Gival Press Poetry Award. 
"The Women," first published in the Southern
New Hampshire University Journal.