poem index

About this poet

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx and Far Rockaway, and has lived in New York City all her life. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love (Wesleyan University Press), was published in 1973 when she was twenty-one and was nominated for a National Book Award.

While Lerman quickly became known as an exciting young poet with a direct, new voice, she also faced criticism for her overt tone. A reviewer for The New York Times stated that if poetry were rated, Armed Love would receive a "double X." Lerman published one more collection, Come the Sweet By and By (1975), and then, partly in response to the backlash against her first book, which looked frankly at sexuality and popular culture, she did not write another book of poems for 25 years.

When Sarah Gorham, president of Sarabande Books, started the press, she approached Lerman, whom she had long admired, and asked if she might have a book for Sarabande. Lerman compiled a manuscript of poems, and in 2001 Sarabande published The Mystery of Meteors, followed by Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (2005), which was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry. Since then, Lerman has also published The Sensual World Re-emerges (2010).

On choosing the collection for the Marshall Prize, poet Tony Hoagland wrote: "Eleanor Lerman's poems have sociological savvy, philosophical rue, historical recognition, and vernacular resilience. They sing a song that is bravely gloomy, but they sing it with a fierce and earned dignity."

Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds

Eleanor Lerman
This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in 
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night
She says: all the chandeliers were broken and in the winter,
you couldn’t get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy. She thinks she is speaking 
about the days before she left, but I think, actually, that she is 
recounting history. Somebody should be writing all this down

Or not. Perhaps the transition from Communism to a post-Soviet 
federation as seen through the eyes of a woman who was hoping, 
at least, for an influx of French cosmetics is of interest only to me.
And why not? It seems that the fall of a great empire—revolution! 
murder! famine! martial music!—has had a personal effect.
Picture an old movie: here is the spinning globe, the dotted line 
moving, dash by dash, from Moscow across the ocean to 
New York and it’s headed straight for me. Another blonde 
with an accent: the city’s full of them. Nostrovya! A toast 
to how often I don’t know what’s coming at me next.

So here is a list of what she left behind: a husband, an abortion, 
a mathematical education, and a black market career in 
trading currencies. And what she brought: a gray poodle, 
eight dresses and a fearful combination of hope, sarcasm, 
and steel-eyed desire to which I have surrendered. And now 
I know her secrets: she will never give up smoking.
She would have crawled across Eastern Europe and fed 
that dog her own blood if she had to. And her mother’s secrets: 
she would have thought, at last, that you were safe with me.
She hated men. Let me, then, acknowledge that last generation 
of the women of the enemy: they are a mystery to me.
They would be a mystery even to my most liberal-minded friends.

That’s not to say that the daughter, this new democrat, can’t be 
a handful. And sometimes noisy: One of those girls you see 
now (ice blue manicure, real diamonds and lots of DKNY)
leans over from the next table and says, Can’t you ask your wife 
to hold it down? My wife? I suppose I should be insulted, 
but I think it’s funny. This is a dangerous woman they want 
to quiet here. A woman who could sew gold into the ragged lining
of anybody’s coffin. Who knows that money does buy freedom.
Who just this morning has obtained a cell phone with a bonus plan.
She has it with her, and I believe she means to use it.
Soon, she will be calling everyone, just to wake them up.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Eleanor Lerman

Eleanor Lerman

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx and Far Rockaway, and has

by this poet

poem
It is a mild day in the suburbs
Windy, a little gray. If there is
sunlight, it enters through the
kitchen window and spreads
itself, thin as a napkin, beside
the coffee cup, pie on a plate

What am I describing?
I am describing a dream
in which nobody has died

These are our mothers:
your mother and mine
It is
poem
Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around 
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And 
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else
poem
I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot