Elaine M. Starkman







At a Russian Circus,

Sochi, on the Black Sea, 1990


I want to be an aerialist, not a ballerina with the Bolshoi

or the Kirov or a small two-bit troupe dancing for

tourists, she thought, as she sat in the Russian Circus

in a small town on the Black Sea;


I’ll hang by my teeth from a rope, wear a gaudy costume,

every muscle of my body, taut, every nerve controlled.

I’ll twirl and spring into the handsome hairy arms of Mitya—

half Georgian, half Jew, each half still hating the other—


I’ll escape to the West—now that it’s made easy—

Paris, New York!  I want to feel air rush under

my armpits and between my legs as I listen to our

pretty children below,


girls with chiffon bows, boys with short tight pants,

dripping marozhenya* on their mamma’s big thighs,

hanging onto her, squeezing her fleshy hands.

I’ll fly higher than Chagall rooftops, pinwheel above


holes of toilets where a woman can’t pee—she can’t

wear slacks, she’s must bring her own napkins—

twirl above birch and chestnut of every rotten palace

and museum, above all war monuments,


above embalmed czars, black catacombs, white nights

that never end.  I’ll know the name of Peter the Wise,

it’s second nature for me to know Peter the Great, Ivan

the Terrible, and the mass murderers of the Ukraine.


I’ll know every river, metro stop, every block of concrete

twist of history in our vast miserable Motherland.

I’ll know Gorbachev and the rest of leaders,

may they be blotted from memory!


I want decent meals without waiting hours to buy

food. I want comfort clothes, like that English

teacher with her thin-framed glasses sitting down

there in safety, looking at me up here.


I’ll run around with a fast Russian crowd, drink

kvass and vodka, eat kasha and caviar, know how to say

more than up/down, in/out, close/open in other tongues.

I’ll feed tigers from my purse full of meat and


wrap the baby around my shoulders like a coat.

I’ll wear two-colored hair, a hard face of rouge

and live in a room so small that it makes swing,

swing high as the sky,


dangle my ankle in the air.  I’ll tickle new millionaires

under their fat chins, know where this country’s going,

where I’m going, forget history,  let it be known

in the west; that’s where I’m headed—


the West, the West! That’s what keeps my act alive.

At three in the morning, I’ll fall into bed with Mitya.

ignoring his snoring   My dreams sound like

Babushka’s sweet songs until Mitya sneaks out


to black market—better than ever….  When

I wake he’s gone.  I’ll put on thin-framed glasses,

dress myself in a dress of good western cut and file

out the front door of this ransacked hotel where


the teacher from America thinks

it’s art that makes me dive and leap.


*marozhenya = ice cream




In Golden Gate Park, San Francisco


The day was the jewel

that young visitors expect,

yet for those of us who live here

we know our swift weather changes.

For now the air was desirable

with a clean and bright breeze

the park, uncrowded.

What more could anyone want.


We got lost driving here,

coming from the hospital

and not our home. I should have driven

through the city for practice

since my accident, but my husband

insisted on driving.


At last we walked along the park

studying historical figures

who had settled here in earlier times.

When we sat on a bench,

he took my hand and kissed it.

I teared up, the two of us not

so young and sometimes distant.


Then we walked some more

eyeing a young black girl alone

on a bench.  She had a sweet shy smile

and  softly asked if we might give her

a dollar.


We did, but when we saw

she had no hands, I wished

we’d given her more, that

we had talked longer and told

her where she might find help,

find work for herself.


On the freeway home, I thought of course

we should have taken her home

and let her sleep in one of the

bedrooms of our long-gone children,

but I hadn’t spoken out,

my only regret of the whole day.


October, 8, 2013




Zen Ice Cream, 1989


I’m glad you told me

How odd

It is


To first lick the vanilla,

Then the chocolate



Not swirling

The two together

On my tongue.


Since then I’ve learned

To admire crusts

Of breads


Rinds of melons

And to suck

The juice of plums


Praising their pits

Before I spit them



Appears in Hong Kong Literary Journal, 2013




After/words: In the Garden of Eden


Now our bodies soften

his of clay, mine of bone


Storm and sun

darkness and light


no longer tell us

what they mean


or where to travel


Is an eye still not a hand

is a foot still not pleasure


In our First World

we had  their Garden,


but here there are too  many truths,

and we cannot flee


the Flood


Appears in Ginosko Literary Journal, #3,




Traveling Among Men, June, 2012


They walk the path,

each by himself at this

early hour, this perfect day:


First, Hemingway—

shirt off to the world

chest tanned.  The scowl

remains on his face says:

Grace Under Pressure


Timidly, I whisper, “Hi.”

He nods his head, snarls,

and looks away.


Next Einstein, shabbily dressed,

semi-jogging with a small strange gait.

His long white hair nearly

touches the edge of his vest.


We smile; he waves his left hand,

I, my right, thinking of one of his quotes:

Women marry men hoping they’ll change;

men marry women

hoping they won’t,

which, of course, is true.


Last, Gandhi, thin white tee shirt

tucked into white walking shorts;

thin halo of hair on his bald head.

He lets me know what I need to know:


     This moment is the message.           












Elaine M. Starkman is originally from Chicago, but has been living in the San Francisco Bay Area for 43 years—with the exception when her husband, she, and their then three young children lived in Israel after 1967. Her husband worked as an M.D. in a small hospital near Tiberias when the children were lovingly cared for on Deganya, one of the first kibbutzim in the country, and she taught English in the Jordan Valley.


Upon returning to the U.S., they moved to Northern California and she began to write seriously. She had a fourth child and went back to school to earn an MA in Writing. Over the years she has written both prose and poems, and has edited several books, one of which won a 1999 PEN AWARD. Her fifth book of poems, Hearing Beyond Sound, was published in 2013.  She currently teaching writing to adults in the East Bay.

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