Nancy Naomi Carlson

Two Poems

Kitchen in Flatbush

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,”
she’d argue in Yiddish, each morning
spreading grape jelly on Sunbeam toast,
soft in the middle, hard on the crust.
Grandpa would rev up his throat, raspy
as a Studebaker, but she’d turn away,
sip hot water from a teaspoon.

Holidays, she’d shoo him out with us,
sweep aside strands of white hair
slipping free like apron strings.
She’d grind whitefish and pike
together for gefilte fish,
stuff raisins and meat into cabbage leaves
the way she’d pack food into us.

One morning, her bathrobe dragging
over worn-down hardwood floors,
she shuffled to the kettle on the range.
Before she could ignite its pilot light,
she collapsed on pale linoleum tiles.
Mouth-to-mouth, Grandpa brought her back
but she shook her head “No” and died.

Barbara Frank, “Fingery Watery,” acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 26″, 2017

Weight of Your Being

For Matthew, who lived 13 ½ hours

Your legacy—a date that doubles
for being and passing, that returns

each December like a ghost.
I’d like to say that first year we lay stones

on your headstone, like bone against bone,
and brushed away snow

from the engraved words—beloved son—
and polished the gray granite’s shine

until our fingertips gave in
to the cold. That we return each spring

to plant hollyhocks and larkspur,
white as a layette, in the newly-turned earth—

but there is no plot, no shrine,
no place in this world where your name is borne.



Nancy Naomi Carlson is the recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland Arts Council, and the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Carlson is author of four books of poems and translator of six books from French to English, including An Infusion of Violets (Seagull Books, 2019), recently named a "New & Noteworthy" title by the New York Times Book Review. A senior translation editor for Tupelo Press, her work has appeared in APR, The Georgia Review, The Paris Review and Poetry. Her website: To read more by this author: Summer 2005 issue