The Tailor’s Three Sons and Other New York Poems

I hadn’t realized just how many poems I’d written about New York until my friend Mary suggested I gather them for this collection. My love for the city goes back to childhood and these poems were written over quite a long time. A more recent one, “The Tailor’s Three Sons”, was inspired by a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York’s Lower East Side while others were inspired by friends and family; I am fascinated by people and their stories. Having lived in England for many years, I often think, What if… and have tried, in my writing, somehow to meld my life in England with the one I left in New York. Here are poems about people, the process of work and art, and distance, in time and place.

“I was charmed, beguiled, intrigued and absorbed by turns by the poems from the winning pamphlet. Each seemed a complete act and could stand alone, but together they worked as a wonderful narrative of the past as set in a particular place.”
–Amy Wack, poetry editor at Seren and judge of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition


          The Tenement Museum, NYC

Nights I can’t sleep, I think about the tailor’s

three sons and how twelve people lived and worked

in a three-room apartment meant for four

when the Lower East Side was the most crowded place


on the planet. What was it they did? The cutting or basting

or sewing, right here, the finishing or pressing over there

while the clock’s heavy ticking kept them sane, insane?

Afternoons they’d elbow through the teeming streets to catch

some air, some news, but after a long day, what else had they

to look forward to but a bowl of soup and then to sleep

on the red velvet sofa which looked, from a distance,

more lavish, and though cherished, was so narrow

it is hard to imagine enough room for even one young boy

to sit down. I think of the sons because when night came

at last, and the whirr of machines had flown out the window,

the clock’s ticking rocking like a lullaby, they would

lay down their heads side by side on the sofa,

rest their throbbing feet on wooden chairs and lie, suspended,

to sleep the sleep of the young and the exhausted,

dreaming their immigrant dreams in thin air.

First published in Poetry Review


That Saturday I lay in bed, head throbbing,

throat on fire, my stepdad chose it

from the library, a biography

about three sisters who lived somewhere

in England. I loved to read

how they loved to write, I wanted to be

a sister like that. If it had been another day,

if I’d not had another throbbing throat…

I’m searching for it now, remembering

how I lay there turning pages

as the pain began to ease, releasing me

into winter on some windy heath.

First published in May Day & Other Poems, Cinnamon Press


If Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Seymour had moved

     out of their two-bedroom apartment with my four cousins

as planned, I never would have met Susan Silver,

     who lived in their courtyard, Utopia Parkway, Queens,

and grew up with Sharon and Tara, and years later

     I might not have known her at university

or become best friends, lived together in that red semi

     on East Street next to Feeney’s Fine Foods and Drink

with Marla, the actress who spent weekends in New York City

     with a jazz musician twice her age. The three of us

ate only with chopsticks at a cable spool we used as a table,

     visited Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of the night

and found, once, a star on our receipt and won

     another dozen. We lived up the street from Mary and Albert

with their parakeets Sonya and Raskolnikov, and Peter, the potter,

     who borrowed my Brother typewriter to write a book

on Abstract Expressionism. I would never have heard

     that Susan met an English guy that summer while camping

with her boyfriend in Vermont, that he would borrow a sleeping bag

     and have to return it. She would not have rung me up

to join her in Manhattan, and I would not have said no and

     she would not have cajoled me until she convinced me to go.

I would not have seen him standing in the doorway

     of his friend’s apartment on East 13th Street and thought Yes.


Prizewinner in the Troubadour Poetry Competition