Friday, October 26, 2012


This week I took a day off from kindergarten and went to do some poetry work with 8th graders at Daisy's school.  They had (if you can believe it) recently spent five whole days in New York City, visiting Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, the African American Cemetery and other famous sites as well as attending two (count 'em, 2!) Broadway shows.  They also drafted poems from their experiences which they shared at a poetry jam on Thursday night. 

By that time I'm sure they were all standing only due to that particular Manhattan adrenalin that I  realized I had steeped in for five years only AFTER I moved away to London (which has its own proprietary blend of adrenaline, quite different from New York's). 

In a future post I hope to share some of the poems the kids worked when I visited Mrs. Cantergiani's class, but for now here's my own New York poem, written about my experience of first moving there in 1986.  I had finished college and even spent 6 months in Munich as an au pair, speaking German and traveling to Italy, but even so, my arrival in New York City was a bigger deal.  After all, until then, New York had been a mythical, fictional place, the place that Claudia and Jamie ran away to in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and where Harriet had spied from a dumbwaiter on the Upper East Side (two of my most favorite books ever). 

Moving for a strange month into a sub-sublet in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I found myself commuting by subway to Bank Street College of Education on West 110th Street and eventually LIVING on East 84th right in the middle of Harriet's stomping grounds, and standing now and then before the same fountain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that provided "income, Claudia, income!" for meals from the machines at the Horn & Hardart Automat. (That was one thing I was sad to be too late for.)  The whole experience was somewhat...well, here's the poem.  As usual I can't get blogger to respect my indents; hence the leading points.

New York Vertigo, 1986

What I am I’m huge I’m high.
Arrive in Red Hook subdeep July
..I alight. afire and mighty
..queen of the borough.

Arrive and then descend.
I go vertical. I dive.
..upside under bricks and bridges.
Submarining blind.

Where periscope disturbed. ascending this island state. a nation
..of buildings crushing up and looming.
I’m flattened. I’m pinioned
  to Manhattan’s curbed and canyoned floor.

Who ballooned deflated.
..barely standing five feet high. I
..glimpse sky between scaffolds.
This vertigo is not from heights
..Brooklyn. or otherwise

~Heidi Mordhorst

Head to TeacherDance with Linda for today's Poetry Friday roundup!


  1. Nice, Heidi! I love the curbed and canyoned floor.

  2. Your poem makes me dizzy! Great job capturing that New York magic and vertigo, which I've just experienced one time. But I'll get back one of these days for another visit.

    What a tremendous opportunity for those eighth-graders. Thanks for sharing!

  3. I have a particular love for "Manhattan’s curbed and canyoned floor" - inspiring and terrifying though it is.

  4. Heidi,
    You do make New York come alive. Good poem. Thank you.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to a city that lives and breathes - I always say that New York has a pulse. My family and I spent only four days there this June, but I'm aching to go back and experience more of its spirit.

  6. Heidi--yes, yes!
    You say: "until then, New York had been a mythical, fictional place"...oh, yes. I went as an adult, filled with fear, though I'd been all over Europe after high school. But...NYC?

    Your poem has me vibrating with the fear and excitement I still feel when I first get there.

    I don't know if you meant this or not, but what I feel in your poem is how the speaker comes to NY feeling like she's hot stuff ...only to be brought to her knees, then back to her actual height by the roar of the city...

  7. Dizzying.

    I LOVE the photo! Yours?

  8. Heidi, this is wonderful. There is a certain magic that does make one feel smaller when in NYC. I love this 2nd verse: Arrive and then descend.
    I go vertical. I dive.
    ..upside under bricks and bridges.

    I hope you'll share sometime what the students thought of your poem, along with sharing theirs. Thanks.

  9. Great poem. I love New year and it's a great way of honoring the place. I'm sure a lot of New Yorkers who will read this post will appreciate it.