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Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. From “The Red Handkerchief” and “Woman at the Cusp of Twilight” by Daniel Shapiro


The poems in this selection are drawn from two manuscripts—“The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems” and “Woman at the Cusp of Twilight”—which bridge not only two periods in my writing life but the worlds of experience and dreams. Both manuscripts explore my relationships with family members and others from childhood to adulthood while reflecting on themes such as desire, the creative life, and the passage of time.

Daniel Shapiro


Tonight at the mirror,
I admire my upper lip,
the stubble growing darker each day.
I keep dreaming of disguises—
thick handlebars of hair,
the great Fu Manchu,
one like Gable's, pencil-thin,
to make women swoon.
In old photos, my father was his double
until his face got recast
into long Russian jowls and an apple nose,
a black brush just beneath it.
He was a man who scribbled
faces on his eggs
before releasing the yolks,
in the bowl the floating globes
like twin suns.
Now I imagine my face becoming his
no matter how I disguise it,
I see his nose jutting out of
my brow in ten years,
my hair becoming yellow-gray and thin.
I keep glancing   behind me,
into the mirror:
my face blank as an egg.

A Black Rose for William

In the penumbra of the garden,
a black rose, my grandfather's rose.

It began with a fragrant spiraling
inside his bookish head,
from hand to bush tamped in the ground
to endless graftings on thorned stems,
tea-rose pink to deepening burgundy
until the black, velvety bud
pushed through.

Curiosity pushed him to this,
nurturing a bloom mottling deeper
to its stark conclusion, a bloom
that would absorb every hue,
the envy of Lorca's Spanish dancers,
Poe's pale heroines—
announcing a mansion slipping swiftly
into mud.

            Curiosity drove me
to different flowers, different scents,
roaming unlit parks at dark,
never for roses but for the thrill of it,
resonant night teemed around me,
the crickets chirred.

One night I felt my life emerging,
fluid and wild,
converging with his,
as when he stepped out of the garden
a fateful Sunday, his family
loaded in the Packard for a Peekskill weekend,
summer 1939.

When he was gone, maybe at midnight,
just as the black rose
was unfolding,
someone slipped inside the garden,
leaving behind a wet footprint,
the bush nude—

maybe a stranger piqued by fragrance
or a ladder of thorns, fingers plucked the petals
swirling in his hand.
In his pocket the bud unfurled
its life of a hymn.
                               Maybe his jacket
scraped the hedgerows,
crossing lawns running home,
returning again when the night sky comes.

That night, my sinuous route to him
began, when I discovered our lives
like twin flutes in duet

playing counterpoint
across two times.

“The Winged Aureole”

                          after Bessie Pease Gutmann
In that print,
a girl dances in a garden at dawn,
doves floating around her
in a rosy halo. I’m drawn
to the light tread of her feet
over cobblestones, her filmy nightgown
rising and falling, the snow of wings.
That girl could be my mother
seeking pixies behind the house,
calling her name down a well,
Shulamith—I reach out my hand,
she pulls me in. Grass rustling, frisky
crickets tickle my feet.
She turns perfect pirouettes,
leads me back to a shadowed
doorway behind the cobblestones
cool as limestone, far from boredom,
where hours never pass
punctuated by shrill rings.
My spiraling thoughts steep with hydrangeas,
magenta-blue in the honeysuckle
twilight. Out the window
sparrows alight and when it darkens,
glimmering wings,
a host of pixies circles my room.

Visions of Esther

When I imagined God
I saw my grandmother
seated at a table in Heaven.

Pale blue eyes, aquiline nose, silver bun—

From the car she towered like a monument
or a ship’s prow cresting the foam.
But at the door she wore a housedress,
an ace bandage circled one knee.
Wind riffled a loose strand of her hair.

I turn the glass knob
and take in the sunparlor—
the Kelly-green rocker, an antler of coral
crowning the “boop-box” we never watched.

Grandpa’s seals bit watermarked paper
into indecipherable rings.
He was a shadowy man.

And shadowy men suggest shadowy things,
mirrors and corridors, mothballs, canes,
Grandma’s lips pursed over
dentures, the woman upstairs no one had seen—

we only heard along our ceiling
thumping and scraping.

Grandma bought me a model of a submarine
on King’s Highway and a Timex watch,
plied me with kasha steeped in broth,
sponge cakes long as a Passover table.

I watched her chopping
sweet red onions, beating eggs
beneath the flickering ring.

She took her teeth out,
scared me away

and at night during my odd tantrum,
asked me to take off my “Ubangi lip,”
go back to sleep, return to my dreams.

Raise your finger to your lips again,
point upstairs, delight me some more:
Shhh. Schindler lays with her ear to the floor.”

Statues and Spirits

                  Metropolitan Museum of Art
1. The Three Shades

I wasn’t fooled
by those three male figures
reaching down
as if pulled by gravity
toward Hell.
Black and molten, muscles tensed
with the skin of death,
they didn’t fool me:
they were the shades
of my grandmother and her sisters
—Esther, Gertrude, and Schiffie—
classical beauties
who thickened over time,
their spirits mischievous as fire,
souls clear as water.
I wasn’t fooled
by the surfaces of things.
I knew they’d arrived
to visit their own,
disguised in a roof-garden,
posing as Rodin’s famous cast,
come to guide me
that uncertain afternoon.

2. The Three Graces

The truth is I was feeling
blue when I came upon
these milky forms
beneath a cupola
in a sun-filled room.
Now, they lean against each other,
the casual play
of arms on shoulders,
trios of legs and hips and v’s
in conversation. They have
no heads, the air is dreaming
with eyes of cerulean.
I was feeling blue when I came upon
their forms, light growing
out of speckled marble.
Flanked by amphoras
draped with their togas,
they’re pausing to bathe or sing or dance
in this dreaming room.
The blue hue fades
to the clarity of a flame,
and facing a wishing pool
glittering with coins, I imagine
their faces as if one
flickering on a pond—
Gertrude, Schiffie, and Esther,
aquiline noses, foreheads
clear, the long dark hair
they braid with water—
before I toss in three dimes.
Out of nowhere,
a ghostly voice climbs air.