NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Student Voices: Arlina Monira

    June 20, 2017

    Wrapped in shadows

    by Arlina Monira

    7th Grade at P.S./M.S. 194

    The moon shone, revealing its beauty through the clouds that trapped the glow like doors, capturing the shimmering light. Isabella leaned against the wall of her bay window, lost inside of a world of which only she knew of. It was raining. The water landed on the flat, smooth surface of the window, slipping as if losing its grip. Isabella stared at the sliding water droplets lifelessly. It was quiet. It often was. Her image of her world was corrupted when the bell for dinner was rung. The orphanage mother walked into each and every room to make sure all the children were preparing to go down for dinner. Isabella gently walked to her side of the washroom and began to wash her face and hands in a soothing and gentle manner. After drying herself off, she walked down a narrow stairway into the grand dinner hall that had a long table set for each of the 60 kids who stayed at the orphanage. Each chair at the table was personalized for the person it was for, making each chair different and special. On the table was turkey, mashed potatoes, stew, and one slice of transparent green Jell-O on a plate for each of the children. Isabella walked to her significant seat at the table that was decorated in small, artificial flowers and vines, and picked at the food before she ate very little of the food on the table. She use to sit between her two best friends; Tom and Hazel. Tom had been like a brother to her since she first arrived. But, she also found him very attractive, with his light brown hair that swayed above his big, green eyes. Hazel was also like a sibling to her. Many in the orphanage think of her as the craziest and strangest one in the orphanage. She is able to do many things to an object without any sort of contact with it. Just a few months ago, she had thrown a cup off the side off the side of the table without even touching it, which amazed both Tom and Isabella. But just over a month ago, Hazel was taken to high school for talented people like her. Now all that Isabella had was Tom. After dinner was over, Isabella and Tom talked and joked around with each other until it was time to return to their dorms for a night’s rest. Talking with Tom was the only part of the day, besides sitting by her peaceful window and entering her own world, that she enjoyed and wished would never end. Talking with him created a comforting feeling that always found a way to soothe her, no matter what mood she was in. he had ways that no one would know of that would help cure the smile on her face. But when it came to an end, she returned to being gloomy and lost. She let out a sigh of sadness before sitting on her bed and wrapping the blanket around her like a cocoon. She soon got lost in her imaginary world once again. A world where she had parents, lived in a wealthy home with Tom by her side. It was a world she knew would never become reality. All she could do was imagine herself living happily . With this world in her mind, she awoke with a slight smile  reflected from her dream, but the smile barely lasted. She got dressed and had just sat down to comb her tangled, brown hair that fell to her waist, when shouts came from downstairs. Isabella’s eyes widened, and as a natural instinct, she ran and hid deep within her closet. After what felt like an eternity, she came out of her hiding spot and went downstairs to examine what had been done. She stepped one foot at a time, slowly creeping down the narrow staircase. She came down to see what looked like a battlefield. Blood and most of the kids lay on the ground with emotionless expressions. Isabella’s heart started to thud loudly in her chest. It hurt to swallow. Her eyes stung of tears.

    “Hello? Is anyone still here? Please answer me. I’m scared.” she cried.

    A gentle rustle came from a curtain. Out came Tom and 3 other children. Isabella’s heart nearly jumped from her chest. She ran to Tom and cried. She could feel his gentle and comforting hand hug her back. She felt safe and secure. Finally breaking apart, she stared at his tear stained cheeks and brushed his hair from his eyes.

    “I was so scared that…” she began, but got cut off when Tom hugged her.

    “Shhh… it didn’t happen. It’s going to be ok.” He said.

    “What are we going to do? Almost everyone is dead….” she trailed off, thinking about all that she went through with all the people at the orphanage, though she was greatly thankful Tom and the other had made it out as well.

    “It looks like robbers got in and killed them to get supplies and the money the orphanage used for getting supplies.” Tom stated.

    “where should we go? I have no idea what it looks like beyond these walls” Isabella feared.

    The other children looked at her and nodded, agreeing. The fear she had before slowly crept back. They had no way of communicating with people outside. The Mother always kept the doors locked, wherever the doors were. Her office was hidden within secret rooms that none of the kids or the house cleaners knew of. The office was not only very well hidden, it also contained the only source of communication with the outside. Mother kept all the phones and computers inside her office, safe with locks and codes.

    Isabella looked around her and examined the faces of the kids that survived that showed little hope and sadness. Isabella figured that something had to be done so that the office could be found. If they had no hope, at least she would.

    “First thing, we need to find Mother’s hidden office, no matter how hard this may seem. All of our resources are in that room.” Isabella stated firmly.

    Everyone nodded in agreement. The first step had been found; find the office and acquire the keys and phone, as well as the phone number for the police station. It was time to put the plan to action.

    Once their plan had been made, the remaining kids ate their meal in pure sorrow and anguish. The shock and sadness that weighed down Isabella’s heart was replaced with anger and dismay. The kids introduced each other. There was Kim, an intelligent young girl, with deep brown, short hair and black eyes. There was also Jayden, funny, yet knew when to be serious and how to solve any problem. His long, pale blonde hair was messy and reached his neck. And of course, there was Maddie, probably the cruelest one of all the kids at the orphanage. She was terrifying, with a half-shaved head of deep purple and red highlighted hair. Her tall figure didn’t help make her any less scary. Her large, threatening, mismatched brown and grey eyes could give anyone nightmares.

    After dinner, they agreed, there was no way they could sleep in the same house with over 50 dead bodies, so the search for the office began. They started the search starting in the bottom floor of the 3-story building. Though 3 stories didn’t seem that difficult, each floor had over 15 rooms. The second and third floors were the rooms made for the kids. The basement was for food storage and cleaning supplies. Isabella, Tom, Maddie, Kim and Jayden all took the time to inspect each and every room and the floors and walls of all of the rooms. They pushed every wall and inspected almost every tile. It was exhausting work, but neither had made any progress.

    “AHHHHH!” a shriek came from the second floor.

    They all ran out of the rooms they were in and stared at each other wide-eyed. Isabella looked at all the people that were there: Kim, Jayden, and Tom. Where was Maddie?

    “Maddie?” Isabella cried out.

    They all ran up the staircase to find the limp body of Maddie lying on the dark, wooden floor. Isabella stared at all of their reactions, which were faces of true horror. They all called to her and shook her, but her eyes stayed heavily closed. Kim ran away from the group and got a cup of water, which they sprinkled on her sleeping face. She woke up and stared at them all in shock.

    “We heard a scream and ran up and found you on the ground. What happened?” Tom said.

    “I was looking for the office, when out of nowhere, something pulled my hair and when I turned around, there was nothing there. But once I turned back, I saw Mothers face, and she told me to stay away or she’d make me” Maddie recalled.

    They all stared at her awkwardly, not knowing how to comfort her or whether to believe her or not.

    “Where exactly were you when this incident happened?” Isabella asked quietly.

    “I think I was over there…” Maddie pointed at the end of a long, dark hallway lit with a small number of vintage candles that were attached to the wall.

    Isabella was the first to get up and walk to the end of the hallway. The rest slowly followed, with Maddie trailing behind the furthest. Isabella took a candle out of the holder on the wall and used it in a torch like manner. Her breath, along with the others, could be heard echoing. Once she had reached the end of the hallway, she stared blankly at the wall in front of her. She tilted her head slightly. She held out the torch for Tom to take, which he did.  Then, with a great shove, she ran into the wall. The wall gave way easily, and Isabella came crashing onto the floor. The others were now running to see what had happened. When Isabella looked up, she saw a dark, haunting room. She quickly got up and looked around herself. It was definitely an office. They immediately got to work investigating the office, but found nothing but rotted papers and cabinets of webs and bugs. One thing was clear, there couldn’t have been anyone in this office in many years. The cobwebs were as thick as curtains, almost suffocating them. Every cabinet was either empty or held an entire population of bugs and spiders. Any notebooks that were found were too delicate to be opened. Isabella kept on searching. There has to be something, she thought. She stopped to stare at a portrait of an old man, probably in his late fifties. She closely examined the painting. Out of the corner of the room, something caught her eye. In a dead plant box in the far corner of the room, something glistened. Isabella slowly walked to the plant box, and peered inside. There was a golden badge, shining.

    “Guys! I think I found something!” Isabella cried in delight.

    The others ran over to her and huddled around as Tom lifted the badge gently. He turned it over and squinted, trying to read what it was. He let out a deep sigh.

    “it’s too small for me to read it, and too unclear” he explained.

    Isabella watched as Tom passed it around for them to see. After everyone had seen it, Maddie put it in the pocket of her jeans. They carried on their with investigation. After a few hours, they were all too tired to carry on, so they took a break to eat and wash up. Isabella decided they all needed a small nap, since they hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. Since each dorm had three beds, they grouped up. Kim, Jayden and Maddie were one group, and Tom and Isabella were another. They pushed the beds closer together, but still left a few feet apart.  Isabella stared at the ceiling, thinking about what her life had become. She glanced over to Tom, expecting to see him sleeping. Instead, he glanced back at her.

    “You can’t sleep either huh?” Tom asked.

    Isabella shook her head.

    “I can’t imagine how I’m supposed to sleep with all that’s going on” she explained.

    Tom let out a soft chuckle.

    “What’s so funny?”  

    “You are way too stressed right now”

    “How can you not be?”

    Tom let out a loud sigh.

    “I know this may be hard for you, since this is your first time in an ordeal this scary. I know exactly how you feel, you know, with my hectic childhood and all, but you need to stay calm and cautious.”

    Isabella then remembered that Tom had been through events similar to these before. He had been orphaned because his parents had been killed, leaving Tom behind. They were murdered before him, and all he could do was hide and try to erase these horrific memories from his mind. He was found by the police the next morning, shivering from fear, his face stained in tears, or so Mother had told him.

    “I’ll give it a try, though it’s easier for you to say.” Isabella said.

    Tom shook his head. “Excuses” he joked.

    They went on like this for a few minutes until Isabella could hear Tom’s soft snores. She smiled to herself.  Isabella didn’t like the feeling of sleeping in a bed that was not hers. She stayed too tense and could not make herself relax enough to fall asleep. She got out of bed and went into the hall and into her old dorm, and sat down beside the window and watched the gloomy, cloudy sky like she used to do. Then, she slowly fell asleep. She woke with having her shoulders being violently shook by Tom. She could hear him calling her name loudly.


    “What?” she asked with a hint of annoyance.

    She slowly opened her eyes and looked at him. He looked relieved, but also a little angry.

    “What did I do?” Isabella asked.

    “N-Nothing. I just thought.. nevermind.” Tom stuttered.  

    “You were worried about me, weren’t you?” Isabella said with a smirk.

    “It’s not funny okay?” Tom remarked.

    “If it makes you happy,” she said before throwing her arms around him. Tom hugged back and  let out a loud and shaky sigh.

    “Ew. Do you two always have to have a mushy reunion. Can we just carry on with the plan?” Maddie complained.

    Isabella smiled, and they continued searching for Mother’s office, since the one they had found yesterday couldn’t have been hers. They continued looking on the 2nd floor until they found something that would help the investigation. Nothing really stood out to them. Isabella walked slowly down one side of the hall, running her hand against the wall. She stared at the chipped and dry walls, as if mesmerized. She stopped when the wall felt different, somehow more clean and used. She looked at her fingers, which were covered in dust and pieces of chipped, dry paint. Isabella felt around where the walls were different,  pushing every place possible until she came upon a small slit close to the floor. She pushed around the slit, and the wall moved back and forth like a small door.Using her fingers, which were covered in dust and chipped paint at the moment, she went higher and higher and found that the door was actually quite large. Isabella gave the large door a hard push, which made the door swing and fall, creating many dust clouds. When the dust cleared, she stared at what had been revealed. There was a chute stained with crimson markings and many scratches. The smell was noxious and caused her a very bad headache.

    “Guys! I found something really weird!” she called.

    They were quickly by her side and examining the chute, as well as holding their noses. No one dared to even touch the markings, so going down the chute was out of the question. After closer examination, they uncovered scratch marks and deep cuts on the rusted metal. Kim took a small sample of the crimson markings on a cloth and took it to her room, which contained a science kit with a microscope. After putting the cloth under the lens, she let out a shriek.

    “What happened?” Jayden asked.

    “The marks, they aren’t paint or anything like that…” she stuttered.

    “Then what are they?” Tom asked.

    “its… its human blood DNA…” she trailed off.

    Isabella’s eyes widened and her mouth let out a small scream. She had uncovered a chute stained with human blood and DNA? She felt sick and nauseous just thinking about what it could be used for.

    “Let’s do an experiment and throw meat down and see what happens” Jayden stated.

    They all agreed to this. After getting the raw meat which was going to be cooked for their dinner, they slid it down the chute. On the other side, machinery could be heard rumbling and squeaking. Then, a sound similar to that of a drill was heard. They slowly turned their heads to face one another, showing faces full of panic and dread. If human bodies had been thrown into the chute, what would happen… Isabella’s mind wandered around that question until she forced herself to stop. Her eyes had started to tear up and her chest heaved. She ran down the stairs and into her room. She sat on the bed and buried her tear stained face in her dirty hands. After a short while, she heard footsteps come towards her, and an arm rest around her neck and pull her into a tight hug.

    “I know you’re scared, and I am too. But if we don’t get over our fears and accomplish our goals, we could be stuck here forever.” Tom said.

    Isabella took her hands away and looked at Tom and saw his expression, which showed he really did mean everything he had just said. Tom and Isabella walked back to the others.

    “Guys, we need to keep searching for the office. It may help clarify what exactly the chute was used for.” Isabella said.

    The group of survivors continued looking in the old office once again, though the results had made them think of this building differently. No longer was it just a plain, old orphanage used to house unwanted and homeless children. Now it had become a parallel to a scene in a horror movie. Isabella had seen many movies in her time here. The discovery of the chute had just turned her comforting home into a nightmare that she and the others needed to escape now more than before. Though she tried hard, the images of the crimson markings would not leave her mind. Her swift hands worked on almost every part of the room, desperate to find something. She ran both her hands along the wall, then abruptly stopped. She balled her hands into fists and pressed them up against the wall. I need to find something – anything. I need to help my friends escape. We need to get out of here. Something. Anything. The same words rang throughout her mind, now faster as she continued searching, but still gentle to not break any clues she may find that could possibly help them all awaken from this nightmare. She went faster and faster each time the words were repeated in her head, until she noticed she was being too forceful. Pausing and taking deep breaths, Isabella slowly shifted her head and allowed her eyes to wonder and survey the others.

    Tom stood behind the old desk, opening and closing different compartments, and occasionally looking through some of the papers that looked safe to pick up. Maddie stood in the far right corner, examining the bookshelf for floor plans or some sort of journal that could explain who had owned this office. Kim could be seen with her, cautiously flipping the pages of multiple books and examining the words and letters, carefully analysing every sentence in her head. Jayden, though, was still in a corner of the room, his back facing the others. Isabella slowly crept over to Tom.

    “Don’t you notice how strange Jayden is acting?” Isabella asked him.

    “Compared to what happened to us, I would consider anything normal at this point.” Tom replied, earning a nudge from Isabella. He looked over at Jayden. His back was still facing them, but now he was shaking slightly. His arms were outstretched, cradling something in his arms. Isabella turned to see the confused and worried face of Tom. He put down the papers he had in his hands and cautiously walked over to where Jayden was kneeled on the ground. As he came from behind, he could barely make out some sort of paper, old and decayed, tightly gripped in Jayden’s gimmy and quivering hands.     

    “Jayden? You okay there?” Tom asked in a soothing and calm voice.

    When Jayden neither looked up or showed any sign of reaction, Tom slowly outstretched his arm and placed a hand on Jaden’s shoulder. This caused Jayden to jump, hitting Tom and making him stumble backwards in the process. Isabella ran over to the boys and assisted Tom, then looked at Jayden with concerned and confused eyes. Jayden slowly looked at them over his left shoulder, but quickly turned his head back and seemed to put whatever was in his hands under his shirt, though Isabella was the only one who saw this. Tom was cleaning off his dirty pants, which Isabella saw no point of trying to clean now. It was now brown instead of the light blue linen color it was before. Then, she looked down at her own dress. She couldn’t see much, but the amount of it she saw was enough to tell her it was beyond dirty. She saw the shirt portion of the dress. The light pink and white designs were buried under layers of dirt, tears, food, and dust. Isabella shrugged off the feeling of being dirty and went back to work. Her large amber eyes scanned the entire room, searching for a spot that would help her not feel as useless as she was now. Jayden had went back to work in the top left corner of the office. Tom was still behind the desk. Maddie was now huddled over something Kim held out to her. Isabella saw an empty area across from where Tom was standing.

    Isabella walked to the left corner closest to the door. The was a full-length mirror in front of where she stood. For the first time in weeks, she looked at what she had become. Her arms were delicate and thin, so thin it seemed that they would break. Her face had become pale. The lack of sleep had caused darkness to set under her eyes. The soft brown hair that fell to her waist was now a tangled mess of brown and black. Her skin had grime and dirt stained to it everywhere on her body.’ What have I become?’ she asked herself as she reached out and touched the cold surface of the mirror. At first, the cold shocked her. Then, she began getting more fond of the cold, and let her entire hand press against the soothing yet cold surface of the mirror. Isabella let out a sigh and removed her hand. her handprint had been left behind. A handprint of dirt and dust. She leaned her back against the cold surface of the mirror and slid down. once she felt the floor, she sat still and let the back of her head also experience this feeling of calmness. She stood up and walked to Tom. She stood in front of the desk while Tom stood behind. She stared at the once soft rug, which was now hard and filled with dust. She walked over to it and sat down, not minding the dust since it was too late to fear for it now. She let her hands feel the area around where she sat, feeling the fuzz of the carpet between her fingers.Her fingers moved faster upon the carpet, until she hit something on the tip of her fingers. Though it would have hurt less if she wasn’t moving her fingers about so fast. The pain caused her to quickly pull her hand back and cradle it with her other arm. Isabella reached out to the spot again, slowly with an outstretched and shaking arm. Her hand met the carpet, as well as a hard bump under it. No matter how hard she stared at the carpet, the spot was not visible.

    “Tom! There’s something over here!” Isabella called out.

    Tom rushed over to her side. She took his hand and guided it to the bump in the carpet. After letting go of his hand, he gripped on tightly to the hidden object. He got up and helped pull Isabella up after.

    “Let’s move the rug.” Tom said to Isabella.

    She nodded. Together, they heaved the carpet off of the floor, walked over the corner, and gently placed it down. Isabella glanced at where the carpet had been. The wood was much more new and looked fresher than the rest. In the middle was a large brass ring of some sort. Isabella and Tom walked over to the ring, both pulling a side of the cold metal. The ring lifted the floor up with a loud groan. Isabella released the ring, her knuckles white, and ran to the opened compartment. The room filled with a musty, old smell. Isabella’s nose wrinkled at the stench. She waved her hand infront of her face to ward off the smell, then peered inside. In the compartment was a book with a cover of old, dusty brown leather. The book also shared the space with a white feather tied to the top of a small bottle of black ink with a piece of frayed twine. There was also a pair of glasses with a black frame and a device Isabella had never seen before. At the sight of this mystery object, Isabella tipped her head to the side, trying to uncover the mystery of the contraption.

    “It’s about time we found something. How’d you figure out there was something under a carpet?”   Maddie questioned Isabella.

    “I was feeling the carpet and-” she was cut off by Maddie.

    “Feeling a rug? Who in their right mind feels a rug, especially one that probably hasn’t been cleaned for who knows how long?”

    Isabella shrugged in response. Maddie rolled her different colored eyes and folded her arms on her chest.

    “While we’re busy breaking a sweat trying to save our lives, you were ‘feeling a rug’, but guess who got the most done. You! How is that even possible?” Maddie said in Isabella’s face.

    “It’s not her fault she know’s where to look” Tom responded, trying to defend Isabella.

    “Guys, we need to focus!” Kim said in a raised voice, trying to break apart the fight going on between her only friends.  

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: Poems by Ingrid Chung

    May 9, 2017

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.


    Spun Nightmare for the Hopeless Self


    the slow return and shift

    of eyes gone numb picture

    ashen cheekbones and cobalt lips.

    rifles crackle like green-blue

    fireworks in the month

    of December—

    into the heart of my poor,

    transcendental friend.


    I don’t think I can ever forgive

    you, him, my sweet young friend.

    I never wanted to grow up, and I surely

    never wanted to grow up without you.

    the least that I asked for was to be there,

    to watch the faded crackling of fireworks,

    to have the opportunity to leap in front of

    your unsuspecting build and

    take one for the team.


    and now you stand before me,

    arms stretched wide,

    so changed, so tall, so shaven,

    so fucking American


    all I can see are dreary fantasies of

    white undamaged roses, tightly pressed suits,

    and early mourning cigarettes.



    Hunting Grounds for the Lost


    Mr. M once told me about how the

    white men had whipped him until stars

    shot out of his open back and he had chewed off his

    bottom lip. When he collapsed,

    he said he had seen it, the sublime. It was like

    a moon with a mouth and it swallowed you

    up to form your tears into marbles

    and keep you warm.


    I searched for it in the thorn bushes,

    the loving biting thorn bushes.

    Fancy being this way,

    scrounging the wood for the abstract-I watched

    a flower die from loneliness and a mother make love to her son among raspberries.

    My skin was cut; I loved the gossamer of pus,
    yellow to the touch.


    Now I sit upon my breakdown–        (My fingers

    …………………..are dead you know and as they fall

    …………………………………..into the damp soil they point

    …………………………………………………..to the sky)


    of Buddhist incense and hurricane salt.





    Your fingers tiptoe, tap, tapping across four fearless veins,

    opening up rusty doors that were meant to be locked for


    ………….The pulsing of your tick-tock right temple has

    ………….always allured me-following you to the
    ………….ends of the night was all too enticing; I went
    ………….without control.


    (But really, I’ve been to much darker places than these,

    crouched low on my knees).


    I, too, have held the scythe of silver glazed moonlight and

    screeched like the vengeful savage that bathes inside the

    milk of my soul, lashing.


    …………………………………………………(but I would

    ……………………………………..never tell anybody

    ……………………………………..else that)


    ……………..I imagine that Kurtz must have seen the

    ……………..whites of their eyes and panicked

    ……………..because they were the same blank, empty

    ……………..shade of his own.




    359dbc7INGRID CHUNG is a tenth year teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math & Science in the South Bronx, where she currently teaches a 12th grade Honors English course & serves as an assistant principal.  She is a 2007 Teaching Fellow and is particularly passionate about effective new teacher training and development programs as well as transformative intervention systems for at-risk students. Ingrid holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from New York University, a M.Ed. in adolescent English education from Hunter College, and a M.A. in educational policy (School Building Leaders) from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.  Her proudest achievement as an educator has been her development of two leadership programs for boys & girls called Umoja & Nia, which launches in the mountains as a five night summer camp for at-risk youth.

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: Poems by Eleni M.R.

    April 18, 2017

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.


    The space between your cow prints

    beneath your fur

    that I was surprised

    to discover.

    Only when sickness took over–

    without proper Seasons’ consent — y

    our fur shed.

    The tail that adorns your body is,

    to quote the young Italian Vet,

    “a rat tail only a mother could love.”

    The space of your eye


    The way it melts

    like butter

    with fire and labor


    into caramel.

    The way the sun is shining and


    The way eggs crack

    open to




    Your eyes.

    The width of your paws.

    The weight of them in my palm.

    The instinctual tether between us

    the voluntary bond.

    “Like bear paws” people always say.

    I smile


    they mean majestic



    Your fur coat,

    the way it sticks out

    bristles on top and

    bunched together

    like cotton swabs


    The way the wetness of

    the melting snow

    never reaches the pattern-colored-shapes on your belly

    no longer exposed

    no longer sickly.

    Medicine helped or maybe love


    The roundness of your belly

    how purely beautiful it is

    how the opportunity of my loving it offered me the idea of loving mine.

    How I ask my boyfriend to rub my stomach

    when I’m getting cramps

    and eat ice cream or

    when I ask to ask for


    of vulnerable touch.

    The way, most times,

    He does and

    I melt into a state of (puppy-)Love.

    Thank you

    always always

    thank you.

    And now




    of your body


    with tail that never quite returned to


    I’m left   with back legs concaving inward

    I’m grasping, my way, to your angled muscles

    protruding bones


    I’m left with space

    where strength once grew and

    adventure abounded.

    I’m ____   filled____       with all the spaces I want for you:

    Open s p a c e

    Space to hold your   bowels while you sleep

    Space to ask for walks through Owl’s Head Park.

    Space to exist within the






    breath and

    fur and

    paws and tail-tip

    of your distance from


    Six feet of leash always made you deliciously “woof” with glee.

    Six feet space between Mommy and me.


    Six feet.

    THUNDER thighs

    And as she walked away,

    heading toward the home she lived in, alongside her family–

    years prior, during her college days–

    the wind lifted her still long, black hair

    and I couldn’t not see the photographs–

    protected by worn plastic,

    adhesive so strong,

    to remove the photo would mean to destroy the photo–

    in her red short-shorts.

    She called them her “hot shorts.”

    The shorts she saved for me,

    for “one day.”

    That never quite came.

    My waist was always rounder than her flat stomach.

    But her short shorts exposed her version of a “too-round belly” — her thighs.

    Thighs, she always said were thick

    and so she unloved them for that.

    I was taught and directed to cover- up parts of my mother.

    The thighs I always stood in front of in

    photos of her and I at Lake George or

    beside the pool during our vacation in the Poconos.

    Thighs that allowed her to stride down the street,

    stroller with me and brother in tow.

    Thighs that let her climb the stairs to her then parents’, then her’s, now brother’s home.

    Thighs that dimple and

    thighs that my childhood friend’s brother called “thunder.”

    It crushed her, each consonant and vowel.

    wounded by a boy’s words,

    or a man’s or parent’s, magazine’s, or society’s.

    Cut by words that I sincerely found to be complimentary.

    “Thunder thighs” sounded bold and brave

    and strong

    and daring.

    Thunder   thighs-

    like lightning flashes,

    a comic book super hero’s great power,

    like a mother.

    Like my mother.

    I found beauty in her unloved parts.

    P.S. [I.S.] 104 & buttered rolls

    Within her





    Curly hair, guaranteed.

    If he

    or she

    is lucky (in her mom’s opinion),

    warm brown   tan skin,

    like her husband’s family.

    “That little chili shaped pepper”

    she writes in a text,

    that’s my baby.

    That’s     her    baby.

    The girl that used to split buttered rolls and

    cross the street from middle school

    with   me.

    That’s her baby.

    The world has seen gestation–

    nine months–

    an uncountable amount of times

    But somehow


    it’s the first.


    a mother born.

    If God exists

    As I pour holy water on my dog’s head

    I know it’s a long shot.

    If God exists,

    He or She or It has seen me not go to church.

    My life instead is of rain water and

    trees and reflection and   pondering.

    It’s filled with watching my dog’s legs tremble and

    feeling so goddamn helpless.

    I want the cavalry

    I want deus ex machina

    I want a saint to lay hands upon my dog’s legs

    the happy-ending

    the dream

    I want more of being tired when she wakes me at 4 a.m.

    to be let into

    my bedroom or

    at 3 a.m.

    because she didn’t want to go to out when it was last offered to her.


    I’m willing to take the frustrating part

    I’m wanting to have more years

    to be a little annoyed

    To have the beauty in her eyes pierce through the morning grogginess

    The gait in her step–

    no matter what,

    demanding more road yet to be traveled.

    NoPhotoELENI M.R. holds a M.S.Ed. in Adolescence Education, with a concentration in English from The City University of New York at Staten Island. She is also currently earning her MA in English Literature from the same institution. In 2016, she was named one of the NYCWP’s Writers-in-Residence. She writes poetry and creative nonfiction. She is a New York City high school English teacher and mentoring teacher. Eleni continues her commitment to teaching NYC teenagers nonfiction environmental texts and writing. She was a presenter at the 2016 “Sharp Eyes IX: Local, Regional, Global: The Many Faces of Nature Writing” Conference.

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: “Schatzie’s” by Naomi Person

    March 27, 2017

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.



    -Naomi Person

         The day before seven people come for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I am treading time and twirling a wooden spoon. My husband is cleaning the house, which he does so well, and I am flirting with disaster. Or am I?


    Eighteen hours before everyone is seated, I Google “Upper West Side butchers” and find a store called Schatzie’s. It sounds authentic—connected to the German and Austrian stock in which my genes have simmered for generations; and more immediately validating, it boasts local, organic products.


    Rosh Hashanah is the celebration of the Jewish New Year, a time for reflection, reckoning, and renewal. It challenges observers to consider the questions, Am I being my best self? Considerate? Humble? If the answer to any of those questions is no, the edicts are not punishing; they are confrontational and cajoling. You can do better. You know you can. And you can be nicer to yourself while you’re at it.


    My impulse is to have a Rosh Hashanah barbeque, the way we did when my dad was alive. My father Phil—a scientist and forever a boy from Brooklyn—was as devoted to Nathan’s hot dogs and Coney Island chop suey sandwiches as a Sufi is to the dervish. In his late years, when the proteins in his brain tripped him in and out of untraced orbits, a BBQ seemed like a beautiful way to spend some time together.


    Otherwise, in my family, my mother had always made a killer Rosh Hashanah dinner: gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzo balls, brisket or turkey, noodle pudding, plum cake. Single into my mid-40s, I, for the most part, ceded the responsibility and power of homemaking to her and others.


    My idea for a 2016 High Holiday BBQ was shot down by the mater familias. I cancelled out my wish to build a team to stir up familiar smells: Hebrew National, pungent sauerkraut, and beer evaporating from a bottle in the sun. My stepson, whom I adore because he is driven to create a family happier and healthier than the one in which he grew up, is a star on the culinary team, especially the grill event. Despite lobbying for more traditions in which he could root his growing family, he and his wife will be out of town on the holiday—and before and after.


    And so, a little anxious but longing to express my take on tradition, I resorted to playing with more elaborate menus. I was concocting a salve to apply to the sore place in my heart in the chamber where family gathers—that which is existing, loved and lost, and imagined based on my desires


    So, I pulled up from its roots an idea to build a meal in tribute to the people of Syria. Syria is in the news and each report is terrifying. Aleppo, one of the country’s most ancient and cosmopolitan cities, renowned among cooks worldwide for its red pepper spice, is bombed out. Hospitals and doctors, let alone markets, are getting pulverized. People hang on to hope for themselves, their families, and their children or they’ve been so traumatized, they’ve let go of hope.


    I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for the blessings of my life. By cooking, I want to blend faith and chemistry and titrate spirituality. I will not use a recipe; I almost never do.


    I could find my way to the Upper West Side, from the Bronx, practically with my eyes closed. I go. A sign outside Schatzie’s reads Popovers Are Back, as if there was a season for them.


    “Who’s next?” Schatzie asks.


    “I am,” I answer with just a wisp of breath supporting my words.


    “What can I get you?”




    In the back of my mind I see lamb, green beans, tomatoes, and pomegranate molasses. Onions, probably, but no carrots and no mushrooms. I want to wander from familiar flourishes.


    Schatzie pulls out a packaged cut of meat with a label that reads Product of USA. Already I’m tearing his offering into little pieces for not being more local.


    “How many people?” he asks.


    There will be nine, but I don’t want him to push too much on me. I’ve already spent close to a $100 on quince jam, grape leaves, sugar dumpling squash, pumpkin, kohlrabi, chicken, spices, a challah, dessert, dried fruit, a 16th-century-inspired lemon zest bread and a bottle of fancy schmancy gin.

    “Eight,” I say. “There are a couple of old people who don’t eat much. They’re old,” I implore. “And there’s going to be a lot a stuff.”


    He takes out two packages, “You’ll need two.”


    Other customers walk in—men who fill up the space where I had wanted to double park a dozen tentative ideas. They just pull in, with the confidence of those not used to, or wanting to, wait.   I put my foot against a white-tiled column and lean back. “I don’t know what I want,” I declare.


    Yeah, for honesty and for confusion. Laugh at yourself! I take a minute to look around. A few families with small children enjoy sandwiches at square tables. The waitresses seem to know them. Shelves are lined with containers of gefilte fish, cranberry sauce, and potato salad that other customers are loading onto their orders.


    I step forward to the counter. “I want to make a stew,” I say. Schatzie finishes wrapping a $58 brisket for a guy in an orange sweater.


    “Look,” he says to me, “I’ve got beautiful chops for you. On sale. $8.99 a pound.” He points to a tray of bone-in chops.


    “What do you do with the bones?” I ask.


    “I’ll cut them for you.”


    “Do I brown them?”


    “No!” he replies. I am so grateful he is telling me what to do.  I listen, eager as if he’s fortune telling that I will meet a tall, dark, handsome man. “You just put them in the pot with all your vegetables and that’s it. Don’t cook it too long. A couple of hours.”


    “Right, Armando?” Schatzie asks as he turns towards one of his butchers. “How long do you cook your stew? Two hours? Three?” Yes, Armando nods. Three.


    It is a gift, to be served by Schatzie. It gives me time to focus on present action. He took the chops and wrapped them in white waxed paper. “You can cook them just like this he says,” having changed his mind about cutting them for me.


    “Okay,” I say, going along with him.


    The chops come to $31 dollars.


    “You see,” he says, “with the other cut you would’ve needed two pieces. It would have been a fortune. And this will fall off the bone.”


    Looking at Schatzie, big and beefy himself, in a white butcher’s jacket smeared with blood, I want to keep talking to him.


    “My grandfather was a butcher, “ I say. I didn’t know him—he died when my mother was 16—but I can well recall the taste of the sirloin and the sweetness of the fried onions that my grandmother would make on Friday nights when my parents, sister, brother, and sometimes my aunt and uncle and cousins would fit around her table. I knew my grandfather’s store was on the East Side and served a fairly well-off clientele. A worn butcher block, to me, has always been as beautiful as marble.


    “It was on the East Side,” I say, but Schatzie is already making my change.


    I would have hung out longer if I could have thought of a reason. I felt like I was out on a limb, getting ready to create. But fear and judgment are at the ready to conspire with gravity and upset my footing and my joy. My impulse, in these situations, is to stop moving anyway. It’s easier to attach to a Schatzie and soak in atmosphere than it is to move forward and put myself on the line. The sad fact is that I’ve cut my creative output. But I’ve got a deadline.


    I took the bag of lamb chops and slowly turned to go out across Broadway. I know my feet crossed the threshold and the traffic noise came up. When I get to the car, I get an anxious itch. Why didn’t he cut the chops? Why did I agree to let him give them to me just as they were? Can I bring them to another butcher to have them cut? Is he trying to pull a fast one?


    The next morning, I put everything in the pot: lamb, beans, tomatoes, pomegranate concentrate, a little sugar, salt, pepper, onion. I cook it for way more than three hours; it is on a low simmer for about seven. Boiling breaks the chemistry of contentment, so I watch the flame. I barely leave the kitchen at all.



    Lafitte.NPerson NAOMI PERSON has enjoyed writing stories since her 3rd grade account of the night Cinderella had a date with Paul McCartney. She has told stories ever since in a variety of media: theater, books, magazines, film, and public radio–where she happily spent a chunk of her career as a producer for NPR’s “Fresh Air with Terry Gross.”  Naomi is the author of Sow What?, a book for Girl Scouts about developing leadership skills and creating more sustainable food systems. She wrote about the relationship between subway musicians and their audiences, as part of the National Arts Journalism Program fellowship; and has written and produced a variety of radio specials and a short film on subjects ranging from Walt Whitman to Hurricane Katrina to artists with special needs. She currently works in a Pre-K classroom in the Bronx, where the stories of 4-year-olds surprise her every single day. She was one of the NYCWP’s fall Writers in Residence.

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: Four poems by Saara Liimatta

    January 10, 2017

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.




    An image came today

    Of my grandfather’s leg.

    Front, under the knee,

    A cavern of

    Sunken, waxy skin,

    Deep hollows of

    Red and vein.


    Wore the bone away.

    Flesh caved

    Around what

    Was left for




    Your skin,

    Dark from the sun,

    Smelled of sawdust.

    You seemed made

    Of land,

    Holding a potato

    In your hand you

    Looked the same.


    You would pick up snakes

    In your garden and snap

    Their necks

    And you would bomb


    And your white hair

    Rose from your

    Head in wild

    Solid tufts



    When I complained

    Of a small

    Pain in my ankle


    Your leg flashed

    Before me.

    You carried


    For so long,

    Without complaint,

    You fed us

    From your garden.

    I’ve never tasted corn

    Like yours again

    Golden crisp and sweet

    Butter dripping down our


    Succulent feasts

    From your hands

    Never again

    Will there be

    Such strength.




    You won’t get it right the first time.

    No one does.

    The heart you thought

    You were looking for

    Is not the heart you want.

    Cut it out. Kill it.

    Look somewhere you didn’t think

    Mattered. There is the one

    Thing you need to see.

    It might be quiet, neglected,

    Empty in its present state.

    This will make you angry.

    You will want to fill it out,

    Right away. But don’t.

    Let it breathe through silence.

    Give it time.

    Let it pour out of you,

    Or into you,

    Saying what it has to.

    You will want to say something else.


    There is something else,

    Bigger, pushing through the edge.

    Some pulse,




    WALNUT & 43rd

    Life wants.


    Grow on a wrecked porch,

    Delicate tendrils shooting up.


    On the corner,

    A swarm of kids,


    Starting hips.

    One has on makeup,

    Too much.

    They go to the store to

    Buy candy, then stand

    On the corner, waiting.


    I stand,

    Mother to no one,

    Wanting to say,

    Be careful where you go,

    Every turn will

    Make a difference.


    Or “Go home”

    There’s nothing for you here,

    On this corner,

    In this dirty part of town.


    But youth will have its brightness

    It will claim light

    Where it can find it.


    An El Camino

    Rounds the corner.

    I imagine jumping in


    And starting over,

    Far from home.




    Beginning to think

    I don’t know what poetry is

    Without symmetry,

    There seems no reason

    To force the issue.


    At the beach yesterday

    I saw a gull,

    One of his webbed feet

    missing, he had a

    Stub leg like a lollipop stick.


    Can’t help but wonder why

    this gull jumps back every time someone



    While another sweeps the sky effortlessly,

    The arc of its flight pure poetry,

    It parachutes perfectly to the sand below,

    Barely raising a grain.


    Toward closing time, the gulls curl up on

    The sand, beaks tucked into backs and

    We humans have to leave.

    But I don’t want to.


    I want to sit with

    The gulls and will

    Myself to wind.

    saara-headshot-010817 SAARA LIIMATTA teaches English at the Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice, an all-girls school in Borough Park, Brooklyn. She just completed her thirteenth year of teaching. She earned an M.A. from the New School for Social Research in Gender Studies and Feminist Theory and an M.A. in Secondary Education/English from Brooklyn College. In 2016, she was named one of the NYCWP’s Writers-in-Residence, a post she continued into the fall semester as part of the next cohort. She is a poet and personal essayist. This is her first publication.

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: “A Mid-Tour Poem (for Kase)” by Ingrid Chung

    December 6, 2016

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.



                               (for Kase)

    -Ingrid Chung

    He came back tall.

    with match blacked eyes & a fear

    of fireworks. We sat on the sidewalk legs crossed


    covered, dawdling – a smoking cigarette

    not being smoked, my peeling cuticles. The traffic

    ran over our toes beepbeeping away.

    His fingers danced the tango in a milky

    puddle. I silent.


    (The day you left was only marked by the dying


    on my desk. I left them on the heater &

    the warmth made them burn pink with shame only

    to explode damp mumflakes all over the floor. I

    thought they looked

    like snow or rabbit fur or something & kept them


    for a couple of days, hoping that the semblance of

    the changing

    seasons would actually create the changing of—

    the seasons. Like a rain dance. Or the

    moon festival.)

                                         The Chinese are all wearing

    white to express their

    sorrow & the fence is melting.        Someone is

    doing the chicken dance all day long to forget

    sadness &

    I am just struggling to get dressed—

    but really, I am wearing your heart upon my

    sleeve while

    walking the wrong way through a crowd like the little girl

    that haunts your day terrors (the one whose father

    the empty flesh eyes) & I am

    the one who can’t sleep at night with the

    tears of giants blinding.


    It is the slept-on name comma name backwards on

    my cheek.

    Cold metal.      It

    is daylight & your fear of spiders &

    even after it all.

    the hat

    you left at my apartment that ripped open my

    lip corners & a    chalkboard message

    from the class before that seems to have

    been for




    TO KNOW!

    the water clinging

    to the lightpole is not

    meant for observation the

    crane statue bending over

    to escape rust does not beg for

    thought sticks float vertically

    in the Hudson idunnowhy & guacamole

    tastes best scraped off the side

    of a bowl smoking still makes me

    feel cool even after five

    years & polar bears are just

    black seals with frostbite it

    is not enough to love everyone

    & do everything you can for happiness

    because sometimes it just

    doesn’t happen


    I play dumb by separating eyelashes with

    a finger. Motioning, I tell him

    to close his eyes & listen to the cars. He

    needs this more than I know. We sit like this, eyes

    covered legs crossed,

    him with charcoal on his face &metal swinging round his neck, I

    watching dogs picking winter sweaters.


    359dbc7INGRID CHUNG is a tenth year teacher at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math & Science in the South Bronx, where she currently teaches a 12th grade Honors English course & serves as an assistant principal.  She is a 2007 Teaching Fellow and is particularly passionate about effective new teacher training and development programs as well as transformative intervention systems for at-risk students. Ingrid holds a B.A. in English and creative writing from New York University, a M.Ed. in adolescent English education from Hunter College, and a M.A. in educational policy (School Building Leaders) from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.  Her proudest achievement as an educator has been her development of two leadership programs for boys & girls called Umoja & Nia, which launches in the mountains as a five night summer camp for at-risk youth.

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: “The Route” by Peter DeMarco

    November 15, 2016

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.


    The Route

    -Peter DeMarco


    I didn’t expect to see my first prostitute in a Manhattan bakery.

    Uncle Charlie said that we’d see them on the streets closer to lunchtime. He also told me they liked to wear mini-skirts. This woman wore a white dress and had a cast on her wrist. She looked like Cybil Shepherd from The Heartbreak Kid and could’ve been a schoolteacher who’d taken a bad fall on the ice.

    It was a chilly April morning in 1975. A lethargic fly had been buzzing around the glass donut case. Flies are slow this time of year, I said.

    She smiled.

    It was my first day working with my uncle on his 7-Up truck route. I was 13, on Easter break.

    Uncle Charlie had pounded the 7-Up truck’s long steel stick shift rod and clutch pedal for 25 years, through the hated cold and snow, and couldn’t wait until he retired and moved to Florida. He grew up in East Harlem when it was an Italian neighborhood, with an education that didn’t get beyond ninth grade.

    When we left the bakery, Uncle Charlie told me I had just seen my first prostitute.

    I felt grown up in a 7-Up company jacket covered with patches of the various brands they carried, like RC Cola and Nehi, and had wanted to believe that an older woman found me attractive and funny.

    But I didn’t feel so special now, and there was an odd sadness to discovering a prostitute in a quotidian moment, morning coffee and donuts with the rest of us.

    The 7-Up plant in the Bronx was a massive colorless structure. The warehouse contained dozens of trucks and endless wooden skids of soda. The soda was also made there, which surprised me. I thought it originated somewhere magical, and when I wandered into the area where it was manufactured I thought of Willy Wonka’s secret factory.

    The bathroom was an education, a perverse form of hieroglyphics. In the boys’ bathroom at my junior high on Long Island, the worst I’d seen was so-and-so sucks.

    The drivers were what my social studies teacher called a melting pot of New York: black, white, Puerto Rican, Chinese. They prepared paperwork for their routes, drank coffee, smoked, read the Daily News, and cursed the weather, the city, and whatever sports team lost the night before.

    It was the first time I’d heard adults curse. I drank coffee with the men and memorized their dirty jokes. It topped homeroom.

    They asked if I had a girlfriend. Not at the moment, I said. They told me to go out with lots of girls and not to settle down for a long time. I just craved one girlfriend, a first kiss, I thought to myself.

    My first crush was on a girl who lived on a suburban street named for a tree that never lost its color. It would’ve been a nice metaphor for a future together.

    One day, during kickball, we threw furry caterpillars at each other on the field. Everyone screamed at us to get the ball. It was my initiation into love.

    She wore red hot pants that showed tanned legs. Her brown hair was cut with bangs, and her brown eyes had a sleepy look that opened wide when she saw me.

    A few days later, she began to pay attention to another boy. He had longish hair and a new bike with a banana seat. I said something mean about her in the cafeteria. She came up to me in the school yard and punched me in the cheek, a solid knuckle on bone shot which filled my eyes with tears, and in shame I pulled on her shirt until it came down over a small nipple, my first view of the female anatomy, and then her friends were kicking me.

    Recess ended and everyone walked away. I stood near the chain link fence of the backstop until the school aid waved for me to come inside.

    Another driver asked me if I was going to take over Uncle Charlie’s route one day. The kid’s going to college, Uncle Charlie said.

    I said that I thought of being a stunt man in the movies because I liked jumping out of trees, or a movie star.

    In the morning we delivered to a couple of Gristedes supermarkets and tiny candy stores. When we stopped for lunch Uncle Charlie passed me a brown paper bag that contained copies of Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler, Oui, courtesy of the vendors who wanted to satisfy an adolescent kid’s prurience.

    I was full of Christmas morning giddiness. I’d never seen pictures of naked women. Playboy was on the top rack of our stationary store’s magazine display, and I’d linger near the comic book rack with the hope of sneaking another peak at the barely visible woman on the cover.

    I stared at the photos and then looked out the open window of the truck to where the prostitutes were gathered. A bar and restaurant on the west side called Mifgosh appeared to be their meeting place, maybe to catch up on gossip or compare tips. The women on the sidewalk were not as attractive as the women in the magazines, but they were real. Some of them had shapely legs, which I liked best. Most of them had on high-heels but some wore boots that came all the way up their calves. The red lipstick was too garish on some.

    The prostitute from the bakery, with the cast, didn’t appear to fit in with the type of women who smoked cigarettes on the sidewalk in mini-skirts. She might’ve been what Uncle Charlie referred to as a call girl, someone who worked for more money in a private capacity. This knowledge about the city made me feel streetwise, and when school resumed I’d return with a stash of magazines and an account of what real life was like 50 miles from the maple tree-lined streets of suburbia.

    One of our stops on the truck was the Roseland Dance Hall on W. 52nd Street, Uncle Charlie’s favorite spot to dance to Big Band music during his bachelor days. That’s when people really knew how to dance, he said.

    I’d seen him dance at weddings, very graceful, the same dark blue rumpled suit for every affair. The Cha Cha, Foxtrot, Lindy, he could do it all.

    Uncle Charlie had remained a bachelor until he was 53, when he married my aunt, who worked as a secretary in Rockefeller Center. They lived in a condo in Jackson Heights, Queens, which Uncle Charlie had bought when he was single.

    After work he’d turn on a Charlie Chaplin bar light and make a gin and vermouth martini, happy hour he called it, a tradition he’d begun when he was single. Then he’d put a record on and read the paper while my aunt cooked.

    I’d read a Spider-Man comic on the couch and think about a girl I liked who sat in the row next to me. In the bathroom, I’d stand with my shirt off and flex my skinny biceps. They seemed to look bigger from lifting cases of soda. I noticed a few more hairs under my arms that didn’t appear to be there at the beginning of the week.

    In the Roseland’s kitchen, the manager made me an ice cream sundae, which I ate alongside a dark dance floor.

    I asked Uncle Charlie how old he was when he had his first girlfriend. He didn’t remember, but his advice was to always leave a woman smiling. You never know when you might need each other again, he said.

    My first kiss wouldn’t happen until I was 17, which felt like a lifetime.

    It didn’t occur in the way I had idealized it. I still had not been on a date, had not met a girl’s parents, had not opened a car door and escorted a girl to her stoop.

    Someone from school, who had turned 18 and was celebrating in a bar, asked me for a birthday kiss. She was a sarcastic class clown type who hung around with the popular crowd, and had never acknowledged me.

    I kissed her on the cheek but she grabbed me and put her tongue in my mouth, where it remained for the next half hour. Then her hand found my erection and rubbed it through my tight jeans under the bar.

    She left with her friends to visit another bar and said we could continue this on Monday, after school, but when I stopped by her locker that day she walked away.

    I felt used. But I was out to use her too. I’d been lonely, desperate for so long, manipulated by images and fantasies, unaware of how blurred the line was between what was real, and illusion.

    Uncle Charlie and I had steak sandwiches for lunch everyday at a restaurant called the Shandon Star. One afternoon I needed a break from the cloud of cigarette smoke in the restaurant and went outside, where it had begun to rain.

    I saw a young woman who looked to be a prostitute on a pay phone. I wondered if these women were runaways, and if they made a choice, New York or Hollywood, actress or prostitute, or both.

    The girl hung up and waited out the rain in the booth. I had a crazy fantasy of getting an umbrella out of the truck and escorting her to someplace dry where she’d thank me and say her mother agreed to wire her bus fare back to the mid-west so she could finish her high school education, and then she’d admit to still being a virgin and tell me I was mature for my age and she’d give me her phone number and say how she’d wait for me to get older and even if I never used it I’d remember those numbers for the rest of my life.

    Many years later, I saw my first crush in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, only a mile from that same kickball field, with two small children. I’d heard stories about drugs and divorce. She had the look of someone who smoked cigarettes incessantly and worked in a bland insurance office or travel agency.

    I doubt she remembered that moment with the caterpillars. Girls like her never remembered the stuff that guys like me placed in that sacred memory closet.

    I thought of her street sign, named for a tree that never lost its color, the first sign I remember being aware of that was not my street.

    It was the first time I’d looked closely at her since that day on the kickball field, because after that day she faded away into the cliques and crowds of adolescence that I could never be a member of, and I’d avert my gaze whenever I passed her in the hall.

    She had tired eyes, wrinkled skin, bleached hair, the appearance of someone who had a hard life.

    I never followed Uncle Charlie’s advice and left them smiling. My relationships with women had been full of anger, jealousy, possessiveness, self-hatred, and abuse. All of it came from me.

    I was about to move into the city, after remaining a commuter and visitor for so many years, but it was a different place. The theaters and peep shows on 42nd Street were boarded up and the prostitutes were ghosts.

    It’s about time, Uncle Charlie said, when I called him in Florida and told him.

    During my week on the truck, I became adept at weaving my hand truck through office workers and tourists, the spaces of hotels, restaurants, bars and bodegas, like an apparition, as if I’d become part of the city through osmosis.

    Our final delivery was a famous steak house. Giant lobsters flopped around in a tank. My nephew from the suburbs, Uncle Charlie told the manager, and rubbed my hair.

    Back on the sidewalk, I put my hand truck into the 7-Up truck’s bay for the last time, watched by the half-naked woman from an Oh! Calcutta! theater poster, who seemed to possess secrets of how life was really lived.

    I’d miss seeing the prostitutes, with whom I felt an odd kinship. One day, when a stack of cases had fallen off my hand truck, and I’d cursed, two of the women had laughed. But I saw it as a symbolic acknowledgement of a bond, that even though we were all bereft in some way, and unknown to each other, we shared a perverse kind of intimacy.

    On our way out of the city, we bounced through potholes and coursed through the taxis that covered Broadway like a yellow blanket.

    The sidewalk in front of Mifgosh was empty.


    PETER DeMARCO was first published in The New York Times when he wrote about hanging out with his idol, writer Mickey Spillane, during his previous career in book publishing. Peter published a Modern Love essay in The New York Times where he wrote about how his path as a love addict led to being selected to the first cohort of the New York City Teaching Fellows in 2000. Peter has been teaching English and film at the High School for Media and Communications in Washington Heights for the past 16 years. Peter’s fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a storySouth Million Writers Award.


    Blog, NYCWP Blog, Past Events

    Remembering Nancy Mintz

    October 14, 2016


    It is with enormous sadness that we announce the passing of Nancy Mintz, dear friend, respected colleague, and former Director of the New York City Writing Project, after a valiant battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family and friends, but also to Nancy herself, who loved us and all we stand for.nancy-mintz-bio

    NYCWP Voices

    NYCWP Voices: Three Poems by Jinnette Caceres Schaudt

    October 11, 2016

    Once monthly, the New York City Writing Project celebrates the teacher-as-writer by publishing works of poetry and prose written by its teachers. If you are interested in submitting your work to NYCWP Voices, please read the submissions guidelines and submit your work by email to voices@nycwritingproject.org.


    I BE …

    I be the teacher who doesn’t conjugate the verb “to be”


    So you can feel me

    I be being the hands that hug the boy who wants to be a good man

    But sings in class when he can

    He be starring while I be reading because he can’t

    I be talking with my hands so she can reach for them

    Because she be the flower growing on the pavement

    I be the one you roll your eyes to

    Because I know you

    Being busy with your body

    When your mind deserves care too

    I be the teacher who would buy time

    For dreams deferred like they are mine

    So I be planting seeds to see you grow

    And hope that you do know

    The laughs I be

    The ear I be

    The hope I be

    The love we need

    I be.



    Some lovers still come to place flowers on their graves

    Now it is your turn to pick a good quote

    For a tombstone.

    My heart is a cemetery.


    You want to love me, I know.

    You want to clear the dust and bones,

    Pry the fingers from my mouth because you say you like my smile,

    but I am hiding.


    Your presence does not respect my mourning,

    or how I’ve come to like the lonely

    fingers on my keyboard

    because I can trust myself better this way.


    So if you are here,

    Don’t come shaking your cup asking for change,

    or wanting my kisses when I let you stay,

    I am complicated.


    You want to love me, I know.

    You want to unbury the bones

    And split the remains

    To help me sort the contents,

    But I am not a victim.


    Your hands are warm and inviting,

    And you pay the most expensive compliments

    to have this friendship.

    … I like your interest.


    I’m just too afraid I’ll take it all

    Just to hide it like the rest,

    Bury you and your intentions In a mass grave.

    Right now, I am selfish.

    Right now, I am. I am. I am.



    She is the excess

    God promised men who could not find their own way


    That nasty piece of art

    A fatherless condition left un-medicated


    Daughter of soul

    Hurting inside brown skin

    With a counterfeit smile

    Wondering where her soul’s been


    She is the dust collecting

    between album covers

    on dressers

    and in chests too occupied

    to offer her some notice


    she is again the nameless loose strand

    looking for one hand

    to blow a kiss her way


    The digression many want to put their stress in

    She is the type that’s sought after at night

    that lay you keep on standby

    sugar-coated and bloated on one too many lies


    A child growing on secrets

    The love tongues slave for

    but hearts deny


    The unpainted Mona Lisa

    priceless until she’s tried


    Her love means less

    Too often circumcised by some misfortune…


    She is the prescripted bitch

    you take between off and on relationships

    with the mother of your children


    The clandestine

    fruitless brood to purposely amuse you

    She looks far too good to be a thief

    but that’s how she’s been casted

    so she’s gonna act like it…


    This woman knows to tuck her wishes

    Between kisses

    Comes in through little sips of sin


    She who was born from a pardoning in heaven

    mutilated by one too many heartbreaks

    Too numb to give two fucks about whose separation she caused next


    She is

    every woman

    on a man’s mind

    begging for the right to be loved right.img_5462 JINNETTE CACERES SCHAUDT is a Dominican writer, poet, educator and social justice activist. She is a graduate of New York University’s College of Arts and Sciences where she earned a Bachelors of Arts in Communications and Latin American Studies. She earned her Masters in Urban Education from Mercy College’s New Teacher Residency Program. In 2011 Jinnette was selected as a fellow with the New York City Writing Project. Her poetry has been featured in the publication Off the Subject: The Words of the Lyrical Circle of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a collection that also featured an introduction by Sekou Sundiata and a closing from Nikki Giovanni.For the past 8 years, Jinnette has taught 10th grade English and middle school literature at the Urban Assembly School for Applied Math and Science. In the 2016-2017 school year sjoinedthe Special Education and English Departments at the Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY.

    Blog, NYCWP Blog

    Stories of Impact

    September 6, 2016

    The NYCWP is very excited to announce the publication of Stories of Impact! This ebook is a collection of essays that chronicle the work and impact of the New York City Writing Project’s on-site teacher-consultant program. Since 1981, the program has placed full-time teacher-consultants in schools across New York City to work closely with teachers in a variety of ways: planning lessons, team teaching, coaching, and providing resources, as well as working directly with administrators to advance support for writing instruction.

    A free PDF of this publication is available at The National Writing Project’s site. Those who prefer to read on Kindle (or the Kindle app) may purchase an .mobi file for 99 cents at Amazon.com.


    Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.41.46 PM

    From the book’s introduction:

    The intent of this effort was to articulate for ourselves and others what we knew experientially—the value and potential of professional development in writing and reading across the curriculum that (1) is situated in long-term relationships with teachers formed around their work and (2) views the agency of each teacher as a key component of these professional relationships. Stories of Impact, begun in earnest in 2007, is one result of that effort.

    The chapters that follow, grounded in the day-to-day realities of professional development in urban public schools, make visible the small but skillful acts of “good workmanship” (Berry, 1981, pp. 275-281) that comprise the craft of working alongside one’s colleagues over a sustained period of time. Each narrative demonstrates the importance and complexity of being responsive to the particulars of context, place, and person; of allowing teacher and TC time for the slow altering of ideas this work often demands, and of the negotiation not just of ideas but of standards, which this work is so often about. The writers also portray what they must grapple with and rethink as Writing Project TCs given the data-driven accountability that determines much of what goes on in our city’s schools and classrooms.

    -Elaine Avidon, Editor

    The NYCWP is excited to see this publication available to the public, and we would like to congratulate everyone who contributed by writing their stories. Find out more about Stories of Impact and its contributors here.