Looking Out poems by Laura Altshul

picture of Laura Altshul
Photo by Kathleen Cei.  

Tony Fusco notes that “Laura Altshul views the world with a discerning eye, finding art and metaphor in the sublime as well as in the everyday world.’ He adds this: “Rich in understanding and astute in questioning, she presents her findings in clear and discernible poems. Through her uniquely compassionate lens, the world of nature comes to life in new and illuminating ways, as does the world mankind has created, be it in the form of beer cans or peace rallies. This is a book to embrace, one by which you will be enlightened.”   For her part, Vivian Shipley adds, “Laura Altshul’s Looking Out combines moving poems of introspection with those that offer close observation of the outer world.  She is able to be at one with the natural world and also has an electric way of submerging herself in the lives of others. Adept at achieving Keatsian 'negative capability,' she often projects herself into other speakers to give us insight into their struggles for survival. However, not all her portraits are entirely sympathetic, as when she describes a mother-in-law who 'swanned in fur and jewels, demanding homage.' Altshul’s language never wilts because she excels in selecting precise and imaginative diction, and she is a master of the telling detail.  In a searing poem about the war in Syria, she makes the devastation graphic and personal by focusing on a cup of coffee covered in cement and plaster 'from the blast.' Read these magnificent poems with care as if you were gathering shells, and in each one you will find 'a shell within a shell, a wondrous surprise.' ”
  looking out cover image
  Front cover painting by Jeremy Sherer Oberle.

Laura Altshul is a Vassar graduate with a Master’s degree in Literature. She has taught in the Great Books program and at college, high school, and elementary levels. She currently tutors and serves on non-profit boards focused on providing educational and arts experiences for New Haven’s children whose families don’t ordinarily have access to these opportunities. Her first collection of poetry, Searching for the Northern Lights, was published by Antrim House in 2015, as was her second collection, Bodies Passing (2017) . Her poems have been published in Connecticut River Review, Forgotten Women: A Tribute in Poetry, The Perch, Serving House Journal, and Unlocking the Word: An Anthology of Found Poetry. New poems are forthcoming in Pulse and Our Changing Environment. Her poems have won prizes from The Connecticut Poetry Society, The Hamden Arts Commission, The New York Poetry Society, The Tennessee Poetry Society, and The Utah Poetry Society. She was the featured poet in the half hour public television series Speaking of Poetry, Episode 36, and has given readings throughout Connecticut. She co-leads the New Haven Chapter of the Connecticut Poetry Society with her husband, Victor Altshul. Together they have seven children and eleven grandchildren.

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ISBN 978-1-943826-61-2
First Edition, 2019

6" x 9" paperback, 78 pages

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



Copyright © 2019 by Laura Altshul


Cow in the Mist


A cow came to me
as I ran by
the farmer’s fence
and joined me with
dainty parallel steps –
hooves flashing high
tail swishing.

At the border
I stepped on past
only to stop
and turn back –
she stood gazing,
her lush lashes hovering
over brown eyes –
this daughter of Io:
Hera’s priestess seduced
by Zeus, caught within
his mist.

I reversed course,
she followed again –
I ran along the fence,
wondered at the lightness
of that heavy body
mirroring mine.

I twirled, wanting
her to circle round,
us dancing together
two-legged and four-legged
in country air.


Beyond Words



African elephants need to forage
twenty hours of the day
and drink forty gallons of water
yet suspend their search to hover
by the bones of their dead.

They stand at attention,
worry the bones,
fondling with trunks,
rocking, swaying,
and moisture drips
from glands behind
their eyes.



An orca mother
cruises the ocean,
raising the body
of her dead calf
upward, swimming
on for weeks with
it aloft as if
she could force life
into those still lungs.

Adrift from her pod, unable
to hunt for food while bearing
up the body of her calf,
she soldiers on, refusing
to relinquish
her child
until she too


Draft for the Bud Lite Beer Lovers


You crave the amber coursing down
throats and fizzing through bloodstream.
You’ve made it America’s favorite beer.
And the metallic brightness of those blue cans –
a blue not of nature, tossed when emptied,
festooning the monotony of summer green
and winter white and all-season gray sidewalks
as if we needed shiny Christmas ornaments
commanding the eye toward the perfect
cylinder or crumpled heap, punctuating
the landscape with those blues, blues, blues.




Not far the trail to the hill
she can see from her window,
not far.  They often hiked
to the top together.
Breezy up there, view
to their house below
through treetops.
Not far.

Not close either, not close
at all.  Now she’s confined
to the chair on wheels
by the window, confined
to the care of a nurse
and a feeding tube
and a machine she blinks
at to talk for her, each stare
a letter on the screen to spell
the word, create the sentence.
Her once busy hands stilled,
her body immobile.

He hovers nearby, unwilling
to leave.  She wants him near,
wants him close but knows
he needs to go.  Go, she blinks,
hike the trail for me;
get to the top and wave.

He turns on his phone and hers,
cradles hers onto her lap, dials
then answers his own call for her.
Keep the line open, and I’ll keep
mine open too and you’ll
be with me as I walk.

Her eyes are tired.
He fetches binoculars,
alerts the nurse.
I’m off, he says.
She hears the closing
door, his footsteps,
his breath into the phone
in his flannel breast pocket
as he strides away.
He hums as he walks,
and talks into the phone,
tells her of the stream
he’s crossing, the rock
where they’d once paused,
and the fallen tree,
then silence, just breath
and he’s gone.

Here I am!
The nurse sets the binoculars
against her startled eyes
and there he is, waving
to her and she sees him
but knows he cannot see
Too far.


You’re Driving Now

For Sam Osborne,
my 17-year-old biracial grandson


Keys in hand,
you take the seat,
fondle the wheel,
feel the pedal’s power.

You passed the test
with examiner’s praise.
It doesn’t matter.

Brown face in the window.
It’s your game now,
you’re prey now.

We’ve had the talk:
obey all signals,
obey the stop.
The need to be polite,
to yes sir
not safe to ask:

Place both hands on top
of the wheel
and if requested
get out of the car,
hands aloft.
Always obey –
then pray.


Ghost Ship


Harbored secrets –
The weather-beaten
wood fishing boat
lodged in the sand
on Japan’s western coast.

Frigid waves beat
against its side.

Onboard –
A bulb of garlic,
tangled fishing nets and ropes,
yellow cable-knit sweater
covered in sand.
Jar of brown sauce,
Korean fermented
red chili paste,
boxes of cigarettes.

Also –
Eight bodies
reduced to skeletons.

Ghostly armada,
widows’ village.


Found poem from the New York Times,
December 8, 2017: “A Fleet of the Dead
From North Korea: Dozens of Ghost Ships
Many of Them Carrying Bodies Are
Washing Ashore in Japan”



December is their season:
wrapped and bagged, twined and tied
borne to closet, tree, office, market,
delivered with love, obligation, doubt.

Carefully chosen or impulsively plucked.
Baked, crafted, purchased, ordered,
swaddled in tissue, papered in festive colors,
the promise of cubes and hemispheres
presented in person, left on a desk,
hung on a hook, placed under a tree,
sent by mail to faraway places.

What is it about all this giving?
We never bothered with gifts
and now in your absence, all I crave
is you, your sly and funny presence.