Joan Goldstein


Soc. 101: Social Class

“Who wants to be poor?” I ask, and
no one raises their hand –
“Or middle class?” and nearly
every student nods – except for
two. “Why middle class?”
And Brian says, “That’s how you find love –
You need to have money.” Jason who
Rarely speaks mutters, “I’m tired of
Living paycheck to paycheck.” I push on. “And rich?
Who wants to be rich?” The two unspoken put their hands up,
Into the air. “And how will you achieve this?”
“By finishing school and working hard.” Scott speaks
in a low voice, as if he were embarrassed to yearn for

“Wait!” Eric calls out – his face lined with
conflict. “Can I be both rich and middle class?”
He has already chosen the middle class, but looks
At me, imploringly, as if I were a Greek oracle, deciding his
Fate; and even before I can find an answer, Eric
Crashes his fist on the edge of the chair, “No!”
He shouts, determined, “I’m tired of
Being a spoiled brat – I’ll be middle-class!”
And the students cheer

A Letter Found

A letter nearly lost – found by
her daughter, amongst Cousin Patty’s
papers – a letter written
For, but probably not by
My Romanian immigrant grandfather,
Michael to his daughter
Sylvia on August 6, 1926

In a slanted, cursive hand
He says, “Dear Sylvia, I
Received your address from Irving
And now I am writing to
You a letter. Write me
How you feel. and
How you are getting along as
I am very anxious to know.”

He signs it, “Your father, Mr.
So formal, cousin Joyce
Calls this new, startling discovery, “the
Mr. Goldstein letter.” We cousins
And second cousins, the youngest
Alive had never met him.- never
Knew him at all.

In life, a distant man – few fragments
We know of him – but these
Words in writing connect us
To our past.- to this ancestor
Who gave me my angled jaw, long legs
And high cheekbones – but why
Did he write this letter? What
Sorrow was he healing for my
Aunt? Joyce thinks the Aunt
Had lost a baby.- there were
Others too.

For my grandfather, that sorrow was
Deep. There were lost children in
The family of Mr. Goldstein – a son
They called Phillip died of diphtheria –
Never mentioned – except
In an interview I taped
With an Uncle. “You’ve
Forgotten something,” Aunt Vera
Said, “there was a son named
Phillip when
They lived in Albany.”

And there were lost grandchildren
For Mr. Goldstein. too – Rachel
With soft curls – I’ve seen her
In a photo –and
Gloria who rolled off a bed and…

Death had taken children and
Grandchildren from the Old
Romanian – near to death
Himself – there was sadness
Hidden in the letter – in
The voice I had never heard.

In the Chinese School: Stories

Children in the Chinese
School love stories, small,
Only six, so I
Read to them; “The Puppy who
Runs Away”; “The Kitten Who
Thinks she is a Mouse.”

They laugh in a burst of joy with
Soft brown eyes they listen, jump
From their mats and
Encircle me, fingers touching
My shoulders, my knees,
Jostling each other with elbows,
Calling out, “I can’t see –
Let me see!”

“Let’s sing a song now”
I say; once a folksinger of
The sixties, I chant,
“Where have all the flowers gone?”
Enchanted, they listen, then,
“where flowers gone,”
they call back
to me.

Joan Goldstein, Ph.D. is a poet and a sociologist who writes poems inspired by her students at Mercer County Community College, children in The Chinese School (in Montgomery township,) and her family who immigrated from Romania. Dr. Goldstein studied creative writing with the famed Iowa University’s Writers’ Workshop when Robert Lowell and John Berryman were resident poets. She is the author of three non-fiction books and plans to connect with a publisher for a book of her poetry this year.

Published in: on May 1, 2007 at 9:31 am  Leave a Comment  

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