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About this poet

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx and Far Rockaway, and has lived in New York City all her life. Her first book of poetry, Armed Love (Wesleyan University Press), was published in 1973 when she was twenty-one and was nominated for a National Book Award.

While Lerman quickly became known as an exciting young poet with a direct, new voice, she also faced criticism for her overt tone. A reviewer for The New York Times stated that if poetry were rated, Armed Love would receive a "double X." Lerman published one more collection, Come the Sweet By and By (1975), and then, partly in response to the backlash against her first book, which looked frankly at sexuality and popular culture, she did not write another book of poems for 25 years.

When Sarah Gorham, president of Sarabande Books, started the press, she approached Lerman, whom she had long admired, and asked if she might have a book for Sarabande. Lerman compiled a manuscript of poems, and in 2001 Sarabande published The Mystery of Meteors, followed by Our Post-Soviet History Unfolds (2005), which was awarded the 2006 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets for the year's most outstanding book of poetry. Since then, Lerman has also published The Sensual World Re-emerges (2010).

On choosing the collection for the Marshall Prize, poet Tony Hoagland wrote: "Eleanor Lerman's poems have sociological savvy, philosophical rue, historical recognition, and vernacular resilience. They sing a song that is bravely gloomy, but they sing it with a fierce and earned dignity."

Starfish

Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to 
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a 
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have 
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman 
down beside you at the counter who say, Last night, 
the channel was full of starfish. And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological 
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old 
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?
There is movement beneath the water, but it 
may be nothing. There may be nothing going on.

And then life suggests that you remember the 
years you ran around, the years you developed
a shocking lifestyle, advocated careless abandon,
owned a chilly heart. Upon reflection, you are
genuinely surprised to find how quiet you have
become. And then life lets you go home to think
about all this. Which you do, for quite a long time.

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky. (It won’t give you smart or brave,
so you’ll have to settle for lucky.) Because you 
were born at a good time. Because you were able 
to listen when people spoke to you. Because you
stopped when you should have and started again.

So life lets you have a sandwich, and pie for your
late night dessert. (Pie for the dog, as well.) And 
then life sends you back to bed, to dreamland, 
while outside, the starfish drift through the channel, 
with smiles on their starry faces as they head
out to deep water, to the far and boundless sea.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

From Our Post Soviet History Unfolds by Eleanor Lerman, published by Sarabande Books. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Lerman. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Eleanor Lerman

Eleanor Lerman

Eleanor Lerman was raised in the Bronx and Far Rockaway, and has

by this poet

poem
I am out before dawn, marching a small dog through a meager park 
Boulevards angle away, newspapers fly around like blind white birds 
Two days in a row I have not seen the meteors
though the radio news says they are overhead 
Leonid's brimstones are barred by clouds; I cannot read 
the signs in heaven, I cannot
poem
This is what she says about Russia, in the year 2000, in 
a restaurant on Prince Street, late on a summer night
She says: all the chandeliers were broken and in the winter,
you couldn’t get a drink, not even that piss from Finland.
The whole country was going crazy. She thinks she is speaking 
about the
poem
Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around 
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And 
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else