Learning to Say “I”

I like a tree in a walking forest

walks slowly over a mountain toward a city

where fourteen million I's brush branches and root

in one another's soil.


Sunset purples half-opened windows.

I smokes on the sill in short-sleeved tee,

smoldering self-destructively.

I is nothing if not sexy.


I knocks on I's door, asks to borrow

full fat milk.

I is a mammal, so is I.

Let's not talk about that.


When I is alone I will will shave I's legs.

Sometimes I is pregnant.

I wishes I could stop saying “I.”

“I” is a lie. Or is I?


I looks inside, excavating versions

of I within I, each unearthed I

larger, cruder, than the I it hid inside.

I pixellates,


dissolves into blurry cells of I,

a swarm of stars or fireflies. I is too close

to appreciate the swarming beauty of I.

I has had it with searching for I,


blessing I, regretting I, fingering I's privates,

feeling shamed

beside slimmer, smarter avatars

of I's idea of I.


Sometimes I stops fingering, excavating, blushing,

smoking, swarming, lying.

I realizes that whatever I does,

I is always walking


in a forest whose collective sigh

expresses something I

hasn't learned to say,

something other than “I.”



The Water We Are


The water we are:  the stream of you

braids the stream of me.  Braided,

we wash stones toward the sea.


The water we are wills itself thicker.

Whitens; ices over.  We trade flow

for crystalline structure.  Clarify


how thoroughly we've merged; 

the strain

of flowing together.


The water we are – something's changed,

some tilt of earth toward sun

melts our grip on one another, unbraids us. 


The water we are 

abrades the bed that shapes us,

the forks of dirt that break us,


you into you, me into me,

separate streams, separate directions,

that share a source, a destination, a sea.



Similes for Sentiment


Like a flower deflowered by a 12-year-old,

one petal a pop, despair and hope,

I'm stripped to stem and center.


Like the 12-year-old, I don't care

that I keep getting the wrong answer. 

It's June, school's out, the whole wide world's in flower.




Joy Ladin, Gottesman Professor of English at Yeshiva University, has published six books of poetry, including Forward Fives award winner Coming to Life and Lambda Literary Award finalist Transmigration; her seventh collection, Impersonation, is due out in 2015. Her memoir, Through the Door of Life:  A Jewish Journey Between Genders, was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has appeared in many periodicals, including American Poetry Review, Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Southwest Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review, and has been recognized with a Fulbright Scholarship.