Suzanne Levine
 Photo: Amy Bloom-Coleman 
In her first poetry collection, Haberdasher’s Daughter, Suzanne Levine shows us the joys and perils of growing up female and feisty in the 1950’s and of having a poet’s sensibility in a pedestrian world. And yet the poet never loses her capacity for love. Although she faces deaths of several kinds, she ends with a series of poems in which loss is lost and love is found.

Early readers have been uniformly enthusiastic. Wally Lamb has commented that “Suzanne Levine’s Haberdasher’s Daughter offers readers razor-sharp observations, crystal-clear imagery, and quietly startling juxtapositions. Levine is a master of the end line that packs a punch or delivers an adrenaline shot of illumination. I was both shaken and moved by this carefully crafted, unflinching, and life-affirming collection.” J. Allyn Rosser adds, “Suzanne Levine’s poems trace the lineaments of one woman’s past in rich, sensual detail, reminding us how quickly an ordinary moment can be transformed into an enduring flash of transcendence.  I am particularly drawn to the title poem of this collection, a touching portrait of a man whose professional smile and handshake have, like Willy Loman’s, become essentially vestigial.  Levine’s verse is life-affirming and keenly felt; among the best of her poems is ‘Glove Making in Rome,’ which aptly captures the sudden longing and vulnerability we can experience in unexpected contexts (or should I say contextiles!).  Her work is alive to the slippery temptations of nostalgia, as she looks back at the past with a wary tenderness – a willingness to probe the unpleasant shadows of those cozy rooms and still imagine returning to them.
Poems by Suzanne Levine
  Cover design: Peter Good

And this from Roger Weingarten: “Levine lives, dear Blurb Reader, in Stevens country, and not just geographically.  When he called The Poem the ‘Supreme Fiction,’ Stevens could have been describing Haberdasher’s Daughter. Taking us for a ride around the ferris wheel of her life, Levine’s whipped up — if it’s possible for a collection of poems to do such — a page- turner that ignites all the senses, that will make you happy, hungry, drunk, sad, and grateful you read this blurb on your way to the cash register.  Many of these supremes are ‘memory narratives’: that crossroad where imagination and memory collide. To which Levine brings a precision, like a crystal goblet that rings true, whether she’s homing in on the sartorial settings and fabric of her adolescence, ‘the roughest crossing on record,’ or asking ‘How can I make a poem for you/when all I think about is crushing/slivered almonds...?’ And before I leave you, let me praise this lyric poet, who has an unerring ear for those cadences, textures, and turns that celebrate a moment’s bittersweet ambivalence. Weingarten’s praise is seconded by David Hayes, co-author of My Old Man and the Sea, who offers this praise: “Here is a strong clear voice, peeling away for me so many layers that have covered my young years — an awakening.  Isn’t that what poetry is for?”

Suzanne Levine was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is a long-time resident of Connecticut. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bellingham Review, California Quarterly, Calliope, Permafrost, Quiddity International Literary Journal, Interpoezia, Southern California Review, Whiskey Island Magazine, and other publications. A Pushcart nominee, she was a finalist in the 2009 Midnight Sun Chapbook Competition and a contributor to Forty Fathers (2009). Suzanne holds an MFA from Vermont College and teaches the craft of memoir writing with Lary Bloom at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, as well as Connecticut libraries and community centers. She lives in Chester, near her children and grandchildren. You can visit her website at

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ISBN 978-0-9843418-2-5
Copyright © 2010 by Suzanne Levine
Length: 66 pages, 6" x 9" paperback



In Dad’s Shop, He Cradles Bolts

of camel hair and
cashmere, tames
the matter unfurling

to the floor. With sharp
pins held in his teeth
and a small shard
of soap, he sketches

his language onto me,
multiplied in triple mirrors. The treadle
of a sewing machine slows
when the tailor looks up to read

the crosshatching. Maybe
next week, the first
, he tells me. Months
later, October’s
brilliance claps my shoulder
but the pattern’s off, the fabric,
scratchy. Each fall these blinding

days fold in on another
season of alterations I fail
to make while the Day
of Atonement passes. When

will I be ready to know
markings or codes outside
the contours of a winter coat?

The Summer of Shorty Pajamas

Puckered cotton, perfect for nights
when the air hung
curtains around my bed. When the August

of my thirteenth year melted
road tar, I’d roll wads between
fingers and chew until my blackened

tongue told on me. Mother
and I were bull’s-eyes
for the sun after rubbing

lotion over our bodies, brown
as berries. Her reach
stretched past sight itself until

the night Dad had one
too many with a business
crony. When I came to kiss

him good night in the pajamas
with tiny bluebells and thin
strip of lace edging

the neckline, Dad lifted
up my top—voilà,
like it was magic: Look,

look at our Susan.

Crossing 1964

In harbor, the HMS Elizabeth
was frightening in size. When I called her
a boat, Mrs. B corrected me: We
are on a ship, and a damn

good one at that. While high school
myths had me hooked
on heroes’ impossible odds, I walked
the gangplank, flanked by my new

husband and in-laws, each holding stiff
leather cases monogrammed in a trio
of letters. My trousseau
gowns wrapped in tissue

were chosen for the formal
dining with captain and first
mate. A watchful
Mrs. B. cautioned

against the three D’s—Death,
Divorce and Disaster—banned in polite
company as I spread Russian
caviar on toast points, raised a pink

lipstick-rimmed flute, fizzy with Cliquot,
and clinked mute
hellos to the black
tie and mink-draped

crowd. An on-board squash
court allowed father and son, emotions
suppressed before birth, to aggress
until one, beaten

and nullified, offered a gentleman’s
handshake to reset
the rules. For this family, kisses
were pecks and bodies braced

against hugs. The ship’s
pool for guessing the distance covered
each day created another fraught
contest before afternoon

bracers of steaming
bouillon. In the writing
salon, fountain
pens thick with ink

and small piles of blue
aerograms were stacked for
travelers eager to scribble
on paper stained with the Queen’s

watermark. Having mastered
the letter’s folding directions, I chose
instead to shout through static
for a transatlantic

birthday call to Mother—a miracle
of science
, she marveled. Day 3, storm
clouds enshrouded me, QE’s
stabilizers irresolute, as

seasick I heaved, certain
I’d never
make it through the roughest
crossing on record
—nor ever

know what this maiden
voyage would yield.


Dad always held back
the screen door with an elbow, a loaf
of bread from Lantieri’s

under his arm,
and leaned into the steamy
kitchen for her kiss. That was the way

he came home that July night,
except there was no
bread under his arm, his tie

wasn’t quite right, and only
one foot was in
the kitchen, the other strangely

outside, while he bent
against the screen
as if he couldn’t bear the weight

of the news he broke—We lost
. I don’t remember
anything after, except we tried

to eat something, Dad made
a lot of calls, and the house grew
empty with strangers.

I Wanted to Tell You

about the cardinal’s blacker-
than-coal beak against
his breast, dressed
orangine in this light, how
he lit upon the pear’s muscled
branch with forsythia
busting yellow heads
beyond. You didn’t
get it—truly, you couldn’t
conjure up this scene
in front of your
distracted eyes, even
if everything
you cared about
depended on it. Instead

of a breakdown, I light
the gas and warm
waves of pale oil.
At six I hear the door
open in triumph.
Your thumb slits envelopes—
a paper flurry in the hall—
and your briefcase thuds to
its corner home. Then a light
tap to the paperweight and small
photograph on the desk to reset
symmetry, wild trumpets
of amaryllis and zealous
paperwhites just this
side of too sweet, unnoticed.

I peel, chop, quarter, cube
then mix native
vegetables and purple
basil into the large
speckled bowl. An unwieldy
onion rings my finger but angry
tears fall free.

Even this
ratatouille built from yellow
peppers and cherry
tomatoes turns opaque.

Recipe for the Lonely

He doesn’t believe you—
and never will. Hang
up the phone. Open

the Montrachet into his
gift of handblown
glass. Slip Art

Tatum into the CD
changer, then blanch
green beans,

smash fat
garlic cloves into virgin
olive oil, warming. So he

thinks you dissed
his daughter when she
came east. Remove

when golden, add hot
red flakes and fuck you
to crispy pancetta,

raise the heat until
you cool down, season
with coarsely

ground pepper. Chop
the hell out of a fistful
of parsley and dress

your best plate
as “Humoresque” breaks
into arpeggios.

NYC Vita

“The only color we have left is Rain,” the shop
girl tells me, wrapping the dress in noiseless

tissue, “but, it’s stunning with your
tobacco shoes.” She leans close

and whispers, “Rush, I know
your scent, it’s Rush”—louder now

as I leave, checking
once over my shoulder to make

sure she’s not coming to expose
me for just another

sucker seduced by any
slick package. A bus plastered

with an ingénue’s smile sends me
to a CVS for anti-aging

promises in a jar. Ruby Stain resists
the back of my hand like a tattoo

turned ugly, weeping into lip lines, a hard
look against Baby’s Face

brushed over the arcs
of my cheeks. Under my skirt, Barely

There panties have shifted uncomfortably.
I don’t see the young meter maid until

she looks at me as she passes. But
in that moment I see

myself in a loopy grin
forming at the corner

of her pale mouth as she slaps
a hot pink ticket under the blade.

À la Carte

How can I make a poem for you
when all I think about is crushing
slivered almonds while heating
elliptical globes of garlic that bring
you to your knees with their urgency?
Heady now from the rush, I toast
bread crumbs with curls of parsley.
You hold mushroom caps on the swelling
of your palm and gently press
stuffing into crevices, crown
the flutings until full. We sprinkle
cheese, spritz with pale
wine, bake until bronzed. It helps
to have a concentration
of the right ingredients. Take,
for instance, a nice
Jewish boy and a half
Jewish girl with mother-in-law who swears
that food is love.

Glove Making In Rome

With the soft underside of my arm
in one hand, he cradled my elbow
into a pillow of green

velvet and set my upper
arm at a right angle
semaphore. Samples

of pigskin, suede, and calf,
in small piles on his worktable, smelled
faintly of rough play, the working

and reworking of skin. He guided
the glove’s creamy fingers over
rings, swelling leather,

and deeper still, into each valley
of my willing hand. In one
elegant thrust he palmed my hand, pressing

both sides of the glove to my wrist. Grazie,
mille grazie
, I managed, but for what,
I wasn’t sure, and would not know until our fingers

first interlocked and I remembered that
moment in Italy and the true
weight of measurement and dimension, the sheer

wonderment of fit and sweet
bindings that tether us.

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