Mary Shanley

Four Sisters in Gaza

The four Bakir sisters loved to speak to each other
on the phone. Today, they were all happy, because
their sons, all first cousins, could play together
in the water; far from the major Gaza war zones.

On this beautiful day, the Bakir boys: Mahmoud, Ahed,
Zakariya and Mohammed decided to play soccer on
a nearby beach. Some of the journalists, located nearby,
kicked the soccer ball around for a while. and when the
boys grew tired of playing soccer, they thought it would
be fun to have a contest: who could build the highest
castle in the sand.

The Bakir boys were excited about the contest, and each
was formulating their own plan on how to win. They
laughed as they ran closer to the water, where the sand
was moist enough to build a winning castle. Mahmoud
Bakir was drawing his castle in the dry sand. His cousin,
Zakariya called out to him, “Mahmoud, you can’t make
a good castle using dry sand.” And then, nothing.

No voices, no faces, no first cousins. The Bakir
boys were killed by an Israeli air strike.
Bakir sisters, met on the beach, wailing,
as they tried to identify anything at all that
belonged to their sons. The mothers screamed out in
their grief, “Where is the world? Tell me? Where is the
world? Is there no one to help us?”


Alexander sits on a milk crate
outside the Chase bank,
on the corner of seventh avenue
and fourteenth street.
The scaffolding outside the bank
gives his sagging bones a frame
to lean on, while he pleads for money,
His body drenched in sweat.

When a passerby drops money
in his Dunkin Donuts cup, he looks
up slightly, with a shy smile and his
head drops into whatever abyss
that may be occupying his mind.
When I ask him how he is, he stares
at me, shrugs his shoulders and tightens
his face, as if to hold back tears.

The grief accompanying the sight
of his defeated life is soul numbing.
I have an affection for Alexander,
whose body slumps sideways,
as you gaze downward; most likely
to avoid meeting the glance of those
who have not met such an unfortunate fate.

Then came to day the workers took the
scaffolding down. “My house!” you said,
panicked. ‘Where am I going to go?”
And then you were gone, disappeared
as if you’d never been there.

When I first met Joni

When I first met Joni in early
2015, she had collected
153 smooth, black stones.
One stone for every black
man killed by the police.

The last time I saw Joni,
The following year, it was
one week before Christmas.
She had three canvas bags,
that held 863 smooth, black

I have never known anyone
executed by the police; but,
every time there is a report
of a cop killing an unarmed
black boy, my heart joins
the well of sorrow; the place
where all broken hearts go
to mourn.

Choke Talk

Frankie smokes on the fly
outside the Duane Reade store,
where she works as a cashier.
Every break and lunch hour,
Frankie pulls on a Camel
non-filter; her head lowered,
as if shame accompanied
every inhale.

I tried to figure Frankie’s age.
with her slight black figure
and defeat etched into the lines
on her face, Frankie looks older
than language.

When I stop for a quick, “Hello,”
Frankie attempts to speak. She
barely has enough oxygen to choke
out a, “Hello.” Like a balloon losing
air, now I see Frankie, now I don’t;
as she fades in full sight.

Mary Shanley is a poet/storyteller living in New York City. She has had fourbooks of poetry and short stories published. She is a frequent contributor to on-line and print journals. Mary Shanley was a Featured Poet on WBAI Radio, NYC, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.