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Sample Poems by Lois Klein

The Real Story

To leave her something
worthier of blame
they told my mother
it was sabotage.

This is the real story.

Imagine it: the barracks at night
cots with khaki blankets
one man smokes a cigarette
his eyes slowly closing

a spark falls
orange snake of flame
digs at wool, sears the sheets
races up old wood walls
devours the air
illumines the pale hapless faces

and the smoke
presses down on everything
on men too sunk in sleep to rouse—
perhaps even then dreaming
of evenings by a campfire
as the heavy drift of smoke
sings in their lungs
sings them to sleep.

The child isn’t told

her father is gone.
She had learned to walk
but returns to crawling.
She can no longer bear
the thought of falling.
A doctor is consulted,
finds nothing wrong.

Back Porch

The porch, gray slatted
in the brittle sun,
pocked with crusted snow
dreary with city soot—

a small corral for the little girl
set down for fresh air,
out from under mother’s feet.
In snowsuit and mittens
she looks around,
then pounds her muffled fists
against the door and cries
to be let in—

only the rattle and clack
of the elevated train, the sharp
bark of a neighbor’s dog,
the winter wind that bites
her nose and cheeks.
In a frozen voice
she sings her magic-song,
the one that’s supposed
to make her mother come.


Through the tall windows
shafts of sunlight
pierce the dimness
of our living room.
I call them streamliners,
like those trains
other fathers take to work.
I like to watch
the dust motes float
and slowly rise
in the bright slanted paths.
I pretend each tiny wisp
is a body
on its way to heaven—
a way to keep believing
people do not
simply disappear.

On the Cover of Look Magazine

A few photographs remain,
most posed in his khaki uniform

except this one
on the cover of Look magazine—

March, 1940—a close-up of his head
in surgeon’s mask and cap

bent over a newborn’s waxy face.
His gloved hand squeezes

drops of silver nitrate
into the newly opened eye—

a first in medicine
that made him a legend,

this father who lived so briefly
in his own child’s vision.