H e a r t   S o n s   &   H e a r t   D a u g h t e r s   of   A l l e n   G i n s b e r g

N a p a l m   H e a l t h   S p a :   R e p o r t   2 0 1 4 :   A r c h i v e s   E d i t i o n






First Love


At fourteen my mother cuts a sharp

figure: in sleeveless white blouse,

denim pedal pushers, black sneakers

and no socks, she is already tougher

than the overcooked meat

she refuses to eat

when my grandmother

pushes it toward her every night.

“Take a bite. So stubborn you are,”

my grandmother shrieks, throwing up

her hands in disgust at her daughter

who—is it possible?—is even more

impossible than she was as a child.

But now hours remain

before supper, the sun still high

in the sky an unblinking eye

that can’t see my mother hidden

behind the brick apartment building

she calls home along with half

of Brooklyn. Or so it seems.

My grandmother who has eyes

in the back of her head

can’t see her either. This secret

place is my mother’s room

of her own. She leans against

cool brick, the scratchy hardness

a comfort to her bare arm

and lights up the first cigarette

of her life. It tastes good

this forbidden bitterness

this sweet piece of heat

held between two fingers

slender as the long white stem

of chalk her French teacher

slashes across the board

showing my mother what to do

with her accent. No namby-pamby

goody goody Mademoiselle, my mother

inhales like a pro, exhales with a sigh

of deep satisfaction like someone

languishing in bed, someone who doesn’t

have homework to do, dishes to wash,

a mother to ignore, a life

to escape. It’s love at first

puff, this Chesterfield King

and my tough little mother.

She tries blowing a smoke ring,

succeeds, watches it vanish

into thin air, wishes she could

follow. Inhales again, lets smoke

stream out of both nostrils

like the fire-breathing dragon

in a story book she read

long ago when she was a child.

Takes another drag, blows it out

retreats behind a cloud

of blue-grey smoke that softens

the world in front of her burning

eyes. Keeps going until she is down

to a nub, stubs it out underfoot

instantly lights up another, thinks:

all right, I can do this. And does.



[Poem reprinted with permission of the author from Nobody’s Mother, Orchard House Press, 2008. Originally published in NHS 2009, http://www.poetspath.com/napalm/nhs09/Leslea_Newman.htm.]