The Shearing poems by Laura Altshul

picture of Laura Altshul
Photo by Kathleen Cei.  

Laura Altshul's The Shearing is a brave book. The eloquent poems in the book face Loss of all sorts head on, but through the good offices of Love, Courage, and the grace of Nature the message of the book is an uplifting one offering hope in a time of trouble. About the book Pegi Deitz Shea has written, “The Shearing, Laura Altshul’s new book, shows once again her poetic craft. Her final lines make you gasp and then immediately re-read the poems with fresh insight. In one of the book’s first poems, ‘Company Car 1949,’ exotic trips in her dad’s Oldsmobile 88 Rocket send a young girl into new orbits, undone by having to return to an apartment with ‘the landlord’s / heavy tread above us.’ The line hints that doom may always be looming over us, the way Covid has. But in poems such as ‘Banging on the Balcony,’ ‘Pumping,’ and ‘The Shearing,’ Altshul’s generosity of spirit and courage, incorporated in poems full of exquisite detail, remind us to keep giving: Noise is praise; breast milk is life; hair lost to chemo is shelter. Turn to The Shearing for shelter when Doom comes crashing down.”  D. Walsh Gilbert adds this: “Woven as lovingly as a baby blanket, these poems trace the growing warmth from childhood into the cloak of adulthood with all its understandings and confusions. Personal history moves into admiration for other people’s lives and life trials until coming to rest at the peace only nature can give. Depicting the grip of malicious intrusions, both worldwide disorder and one invading a woman’s most intimate spaces, Laura Altshul’s The Shearing shows just how vulnerable we can all become. Ready yourself and read it with the ones you love.”
  The Shearing cover image
  Painting by Jeremy Sherer Oberle.

Laura Altshul is a Vassar College graduate with a Master’s degree in Literature from NYU.  She has taught in the Great Books program and in colleges, high schools, and elementary grades. She now 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, appeared in 2015, her second, Bodies Passing, in 2017, and her third, Looking Out, in 2019, all from Antrim House. Although she has always written essays and stories, she turned to poetry in retirement. Her poems have been published in Connecticut River Review, Encore, Forgotten Women: A Tribute in Poetry, The Perch, Serving House Journal, Unlocking the Word: An Anthology of Found Poetry, Pulse, Our Changing Environment, The Circle, and Streetlight Magazine. Her poems have won prizes from The Connecticut Poetry Society, The Hamden Arts Commission, The New York Poetry Society, The Poetry Society of Michigan, 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.

Click here for selections from the book.
Click here to read reviews and learn about upcoming events.


ISBN 978-1-943826-90-2
First Edition, 2021
78 pages

Copies of this book can be ordered
from all bookstores including Amazon
and directly from the author:
Laura Altshul
100 York St., # 14-C
New Haven, CT 06511.
Please send $17.00 per book
plus $4.00 shipping in CT
and $6.00 beyond CT
by check payable to Laura Altshul.


Sample Poems
copyright © 2021 by Laura Altshul



Listening For Our Father                                                             


We awaited his entry: heavy footfalls 
in the hallway, twist of his key in the door
scraping in our bellies, and the sighing
once he entered and sank onto the bench,
untied his shoes and eased into slippers.

Seventh of seven, he was born to hear secrets,
born to bear his family’s sorrows and bring
them to us, his wife and two children,
slated to die early, from wear and working
so hard to keep grief and sadness at bay.

Burdened with stories of flight from afar,
he’d straddled the harshness of childhood
where bodies crowded into rooms too small
and smells lingered beyond kitchen and toilet
and love was an unaccustomed luxury.

We didn’t know what to say, what to do
to make him feel better, to tell him we loved
him, to tell him everything would be right
some day, maybe. He never told us much –
he talked to his doctor every day instead.

Each Brooklyn morning, pre-dawn,
he’d trudge to the subway to that doctor uptown
then back downtown to the office for work.
Exhausted, he’d return, after hours spent
bearing up, going on, trying for normal.

There were moments, yes: those walks
in the park, and Charlie Chaplin movies
could make him laugh – that strange choking
bark as if it hurt him to come forth – and music
of Mozart seemed to make him smile.

He’d don an apron and cook on weekends:
blini thin and sweet, and salads garlic-scented,
but even then we could hear his sighs at night
as he checked the locks on the doors yet again
and then groaned as he lay in bed, groaned
as if he were being tortured, and maybe he was.


inspired by a Tip column by Malia Wollan in the NY Times


She crossed her legs, moaned, too soon, too soon,
but the womb muscled on, and the baby pulled out
so tiny, so frail, he was bundled away while she
lay in bed, exhausted, spent, tears sliding and
mucous pearling her cheeks. A nurse came with
a washcloth to clean her face, and pills for pain.

When she woke, her breasts stung, engorged,
and the nurse brought a pump. She lay there, bovine;
at least she could do this for her son, too weak
yet to suck. Her arms ached for want of holding,
but her breasts filled and emptied, filled and emptied.
The milk was thin, blue-ish white, expanding the bags,
carefully labeled for the freezer.

She went to see his bird-like body covered
with tubes. Her breasts leaked at the sight.
She went back to her room and pumped some more.
And then he died, buried in a coffin
almost as small as the cigar box her father gave
her as a child for treasures.

A week later, a nurse called,
asking what she wanted to do with her milk.
She liked to think that another baby might need it.





First to break through soil,
leaves a promise,
round red root the gift,
blushing deeply
in robust ordinariness.
Inside a surprise –
white pungent flesh,
earthy tang, familiar pain,
then crunched bits
mellowing, peppery.

My husband ravishes them –
bejeweled with salty crystals.
Remembers the victory garden
planned and planted
with his long-gone father,
their fingernails encrusted
with dirt that lingered
even after scrubbing.
Checking each day for growth.
Savory sweet and poignant.
Each bite now a paired sharp revelation
of closeness and regret.




You reach for the banister
where once you skimmed downstairs,
sink into the chair, rise with effort.

The building’s foundation crumbles
and spaces challenge.
Streets flood,
even when the tide is low.

Mud slides, bees die.
Mountains erode, icebergs calve.

Accrual of years, clocks ticking –
gravity’s pull, weight on bones.

Not just the body – the mind fuzzes, dulls.
Thoughts dissolve like sugar in coffee; taste
it there in the mix, no longer distinct.

You said: I have lost my temporal architecture.
Our talk revolves around retrieving
dates and plans, repeating against forgetfulness

Hard to grasp conversational 
threads, too tangled to untwist,
too rapid to hold onto.

Younger, yet I too am dimming,
not just my vision – my gait,
my thoughts, all slowed. 

I’m trying to keep time in my mind
so I am able to remind and be reminded
of departures and arrivals, 
and the moments in between.
The unforgiving schedule.

Last week you went looking and couldn’t find
the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet;
you had the address but it wasn’t there –
you were looking on the wrong street.

Tonight, after driving to a party together,
I can’t see you anywhere inside.
I race outside to the car; you
aren’t there either. I keep searching,
seeking your familiar form
through the inky night.

Then I startle awake.
You are beside me in our bed.
We hold each other in the dark.


Banging on the Balcony

April 2020


Harsh raucous sounds claw the air.
Metal clamors against metal –
insistent desperate homage to workers
in the midst. We turn out on the edge
at seven to join our neighbors and vent,
pounding on pots – makeshift cymbals
bleating fear and frustration –
Ready to bang our heads
against the metal railing.

The Shearing


When the strands appeared on my pillow
and on my black fleece jacket, and in the drain –
gray, white – some straight, some furled,
I wished it were spring.

I could go out on the balcony
and have my hair cut there and watch it waft away –
soft and silky – to line nests.

But it was winter –
too cold and windy for the balcony.

I waited on a folding chair in our bathroom.
My husband’s breath rasped as he cut as close
to my scalp as he could. It didn’t take long.

I was ready; I’d bought a bamboo beanie
for the occasion and pulled it over my almost bald
crew-cut pate. We swept up the hair into a plastic bag
and put it in the garbage.

Later that evening, I fished the bag
out of the bin, and put it in my dresser.
Even later, I freed it from the drawer.
I pushed myself out onto the balcony.
I fumbled open the bag
as I stood in the fierce wind
and released my hair, every last strand.