Alicia Ostriker

November 11: Two Poems

1. Walt, do you mind if I climb on your shoulders–

Once upon a time I climbed on my father’s shoulders
wearing my itchy blue sailor dress with the white stripes
to watch an Armistice Day parade

surrounded by people enjoying thoughts of peace.
I too gladdened by thoughts of peace up there on my father’s shoulders
where I could see above the heads

of the crowd, could feel proud (mother explained) that Armistice Day
was my birthday; today the day is re-named Veterans Day, to celebrate
the fact of war, as if we needed

yet another holiday celebrating war, none celebrating peace—
but forget that. Looking over the heads of the crowd watching the marchers
march in their uniforms, the brass band play

their banging exuberant music, girls high-stepping and tossing batons,
oh how enjoyable peace was
on my father’s shoulders

it seems that childhood memories are like ghosts
and not all ghosts want to strangle you,
sometimes they come to bless.

2. I am attempting
I am attempting to see
over the heads of the crowd
I know she is there marching

I like how the confetti
blowing past her is tinted
every pastel shade, I like…

turn your face to me
then I’ll see you

I like being taller than my father…


One of those blithe summer afternoons that used to last forever
biking up Prospect Street for dinner and a movie

the trees along the street like affectionate cousins
eager to discuss family secrets

I say: the air is so tender it seduces you into believing
that a kelson of the creation is love

he says: we’ve evolved to feel good at moderate temperatures
such as this and uncomfortable when it is hotter or colder

I say: it appears we are actually coexistent with the universe
like salt in water and smoke in atmosphere

he says: maybe so
being a scientist he hedges his bets

being a scientist he pursues the reality beneath the surface
being a poet so do I

we brake our bikes at a light and I quietly look at him
the light changes and we cross

these summer afternoons go by so much more quickly now.


When we are born
thirst makes us cry

thirst surges through our arteries
when the hormones hit

when we start to wither
our thirst intensifies

for the tongue of touch
the magazine of rain

we remember we were once loved
love kept us alive


the mother’s face
was the face of God

the berries in the bucket
were sweet to the taste

we were swifter than eagles
stronger than lions

when was this
it was in our dream

and when we wake
all gone but the thirst


now we pause to watch
sparrows compete in a puddle

now we peer into a stroller
at a months-old face

now we reach for something
to give the homeless man

love not yet flooding back
we are sparrows

and babies and beggars
we must drink our thirst

Alicia Ostriker’s new volume of poems, The Volcano and After: Selected and New Poems 2002-2019, will be her seventeenth. Ostriker is currently New York State Poet Laureate and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.