Bodies Passssing poems by Laura Altshul

picture of Laura Altshul
Photograph by Kathleen Cei.  

In her new poetry collection Bodies Passing, Laura Altshul deftly tackles the terrors and joys that are the essence of human experience. Her poetry is a gift to those hungering for honesty and compassion in this complex world. The zest and energy Altshul displays in these new poems are matched only by her high intelligence and rare humanity.
Julia Paul writes, “Laura Altshul’s poems are ‘lit with life,’ to steal a phrase from this poet whose work is insistent and tender in perfect measure. Bodies Passing opens for us the pot’s lid, allowing us to experience the intense sensory details stirred into poems such as "On Kauai," where ‘Air lightens around us, surrounds us / humid and salty, sweet with jasmine / gardenia, funky garbage, burnt sugar cane / fried peppers and onions.’ Subjects ranging from the wonderful ars poetica that opens the collection to a woman sleeping with the ashes of a murdered child bear the bold mark of a poet able to deftly tackle the terrors and joys that are the essence of human experience. Laura Altshul’s book is a gift to those who hunger for honesty and compassion in this complex world of ours.”

And this from Ginny Lowe Connors: “Bodies Passing observes and celebrates the life of the body—its power and pains, its delights and limitations. Laura Altshul’s earthy poems delve into sex, childbirth (or in some cases, animal birth), illness, infidelity, and the urgent impulse to get up and dance. The people in her poems come to life as complicated and interesting individuals. These poems, while not shying away from the wounds that come with living, are joyously affirmative. The title poem, ‘Bodies Passing,’ includes the phenomenon of a set of adult identical twins, one an astronaut and the other earthbound, who find that the one who escaped gravity for a while has grown two inches taller. The same poem poignantly observes an aging woman and her daughter. The mother is getting shorter as age compresses her spine, their ‘two bodies passing / like the down escalator / viewed from the rising one."
  Bodies Passing cover image
  Cover: “Dancers” by Jennifer Davies.

Laura Altshul is a Vassar graduate with a Master's degree in English Literature from New York University. She has taught in the Great Books program and at the college, high school and elementary levels. She was for many years a kindergarten teacher at the Foote School, and later became its Admissions Director. In 1996 she co-founded the outreach literacy program Footebridge, a public-private collaboration, now the enhanced Horizons at Foote program, of which she is the Board Chair. She also founded STARS, a public-private arts collaboration in 1994. Officially retired, she tutors and mediates. She also serves on non-profit boards dedicated to social justice and early childhood issues. In addition to writing stories and essays, she turned seriously to writing poetry four years ago, encouraged by her husband, Victor Altshul, also a poet. Her poem "Last Visit" won first prize in the Al Savard Memorial Contest, and she has given readings across the state. Her first collection of poetry, Searching for the Northern Lights, was published by Antrim House in 2015, following which she was a featured poet in the SCTV television series "Speaking of Poetry." She and her husband live in New Haven; they have seven children between them, and eleven grandchildren.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-42-1

First Edition 2017

6" x 9" paperback, 84 pages

This book can be ordered from all bookstores, including Amazon.


Copyright © 2017 by Laura Altshul


On Kauai


Rain sounds splatter darkness
as sprinklers raise their serpent heads,
spew water onto unseen green.

Rising to rooster alarm and hiss of spray
in the still blanketed air, we run before sun-up.

Our bodies pierce the night,
our footfalls seek the pathways
we know must be there, are there.

Air lightens around us, surrounds us
humid and salty, sweet with jasmine,
gardenia, funky garbage, burnt sugar cane,
fried peppers and onions.

We gasp it in, breathe this life,
this moment.

Sun heat sudden, race to beach,
tear off shoes and toss ourselves back

into the amniotic sea.



At the Third Grade Christmas Pageant


In a billowing crinkly blue smock,
a reluctant Mary, instructed to look down,
wanders the stage with her Joseph,
a head taller, trying to match his long strides.
Darkness out there, somewhere her parents.
She’d wanted to sing and dance
with the animals waiting in the manger.
Landing on a hay bale, she is handed baby Jesus,
a swaddled figure. She’s never liked dolls,
but she cradles the bundle as she’s been told,
gazing at its staring eyes, hard porcelain face.

The music starts, the animals sing
and she shoves the baby at a startled Joseph
and moves center stage to sing and dance with them.
The music reverberates inside her, and
she flings herself to its rhythms and blasts
away as she moves, her arms winging wide.

Granddaughter Mornings

for Sydney Osborne


The car’s air shimmers with silence,
molecules dance between us
after the initial hi reverberates
and glancing at her profile
I try to gauge her depths.

So careful, I’m so careful –
sometimes she’s mute, tired and cranky
teenager who stays up too late with homework
and maybe other things too personal to mention.

I tune into the news, listen for lures,
conversational hooks, a mention of books
we both love to read. The car our skin
as we swim through traffic to the station.

The heater’s warmth perfuses
just as we arrive
and then she gathers, pulses out,
says “Bye, love you” –
a reprieve of sorts.

I turn up the volume, musing
on the solitary trip back.

Montgomery Bus Arrest: March 2, 1955

for Claudette Colvin


Before Rosa there was Claudette.
Sassy fifteen, she sat her ground
refusing to lift up and go back
for the white person demanding her seat
and the driver commanding her to leave.

She said she’d paid her fare,
had the nerve to dare to stay
to fight for what is fair and right.
She’d studied Sojourner and Harriet,
brave souls who led the way.

Yanked up and out by two white cops,
school books flew from her lap.
They grabbed her skinny wrists,
cuffed and dragged and kicked her
and snarled vicious names.

Terror hit as the cell slammed shut.
She cried through her prayers.
She was the first to sit her ground.
Why Rosa? Why not Claudette?
Too young, too angry, too black.

Yet nine months
before Rosa, she saw the way,
she was the way.

Bodies Passing


Untethered from gravity’s grasp
the astronaut twin grows two inches
while his earthbound brother
remains the same.

Standing at my mother’s door
I loomed higher
beside her aged compression,

our two bodies passing
like the down escalator viewed
from the rising one.

What happens when a friend ascends
beyond the other 
or drops beneath?

Slipping Through


The way a needle pulls thread through the cloth
the way water winds through a pinhole in the pipe
the way a mouse eases through the wall’s crack
the way a diver cleaves the water’s surface
the way a glass crashed out of my mother’s grasp –

it just slipped through my fingers she said
an hour before she paused and fell into bed –
and despite her fear she slipped right through.



The supermarket checkout woman
cradles the melon, hefts it into a bag,
pushes it at me and calls me baby. 
“There you go, baby.” Baby?!
I’m 75.
I’m a mother, a stepmother.
I have an advanced degree.
I’m a grandma, eleven times now.
I’ve survived natural childbirth, breastfeeding,
divorce, cancer, disappointments, graduations,
moves, remarriage, taxes, Thanksgivings.
I’m a retired teacher and administrator.
I tutor and serve on boards.
I run and meditate, also mediate.
Who is she calling baby?
I curl up in bed and get ready to sleep –
think of her hands cradling my melon.

At Night


Bird claws clamp tight
round the bough at night for rest
anchoring against wind
and gravity’s pull.

You cleave to my side
your left hand on my right breast
fingers fiercely cupping,
continuance reassured.

I push my hips back
fitting into your nest
warding off deep knowing.