Submission Guidelines: Send unpublished poems in the body of an email (NO ATTACHMENTS) to nvneditor[at] No simultaneous submissions. Use "Verse News Submission" as the subject line. Send a brief bio. No payment. Authors retain all rights after 1st-time appearance here. Scroll down the right sidebar for the fine print.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


by Maria Lisella

… the immigrants, the sharecroppers,
the unskilled laborers standing on corners
waiting for work, maybe it was the Hell’s Gate Bridge
or the dangerous bowels of the subways.

Sharing low-lit tenements with men piled high
swapping pillows, sheets and beds as they returned
from the morning shift, the evening shift

The stench of those men-filled quarters
No women to dress for, to clean for,
to shave for, a society of men clammy

in winters, sultry in summers, saving
meager wages split with padroni
and landlords, before sending bits and pieces

Home to bring wives and children
here to this foreign place, trying
to remember why they left home,

Was it that bad? Yes it was, wives don’t tell
the men in their letters, of the famine,
the deaths, a silk thread of hope spanning

The Atlantic, to feel whole again
not so alone, to be human instead
of imitating animals in the daily routine:

Wake, work, sleep, nothing in between
no rises or falls or celebrations or
clean towels or bread on the table

Set for four, six or set at all.
Eating while standing becomes a skill
on the corners waiting for the work

If the policeman doesn’t move them
to another corner, stepping into strangers’
cars, a dangerous deal for a day’s work

Now the men speak with accents from:
Mexico, Guyana, India but they are not
so different from our grandfathers and uncles

Shifting from one foot to the other to keep warm
expecting a day’s pay by nightfall, but who can tell?
they have no choice.

My mother recalls the stories of her father, brothers.
She cannot understand the nieces, nephews
who don’t see their ancestors’ faces before them.

Maria Lisella is the sixth Queens Poet Laureate 2015-2018. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Poetry Prize, her collections include Thieves in the Family, Amore on Hope Street, and Two Naked Feet. She co-curates the Italian American Writers Association readings, is a NY Expert for USA TODAY, and contributes to La Voce di New York.