Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

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Marcella Pixley

Straus Street, Immigrant Work

When my mother was turning thirteen, the ghetto
swallowed curses from too many immigrants,
a grid of tenement houses in rows of concrete block,
kitchens moaning and straining. Women, sick
of promises, called their curses from open windows,
leaning bare arms across window boxes, tired
bodies heaving, heavy with gristle and chicken fat,
spitting their daughter's names onto the pavement.
Anja Maria Lettie Brina Hanna Rosalie Dora
names of the sisters, mothers and grandmothers
who never left their countries for America
or tried to spoon English into their daughter's bowls.
English tasted like work, like frozen hands, soot
from the Brooklyn Steel Factory, the black chimneys
spitting curses over the city and frozen sidewalks.

Nights my mother sold roses under the bridge.
She carried blossoms wrapped in green tissue,
leaned her skinny shoulders against the concrete wall,
and waited for some beautiful man to stop and look.
Above her, the iron trains hammered the tracks,
Engines chuffed, spitting soot onto pavement.
Men walked home from the Brooklyn Steel Factory,
cursing their bosses, assembly lines, conveyor belts,
rent checks, time clocks, the wives they left at home,
pounding their fury at the windows, their daughters
walking the streets after dark, looking for ways
to make a penny. My mother would come home
after the bars closed down, a few coins in her hands.
She would walk down Straus Street, stand beneath
the open window, and curse her mother's name.

Prairie Schooner, Vol. 76, No. 4 (Winter 2002), pp. 85-86

Marcella Pixley

Marcella Pixley’s poetry has been featured in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Feminist Studies, Poet Lore, and Sow's Ear Poetry Review, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Pixley has published two Young Adult novels with Farrar Straus and Giroux: Freak, which was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, and Without Tess, which received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal. She teaches 8th grade English at Carlisle Public Schools. She also has worked as a middle school ESL teacher.