Laura Schulkind



The first time I visited my mother
with my fingernails buffed and painted, she sneered.
Who are you?  

It had become my guilty pleasure—
The soprano vibrato of the room.
The precise sequence of things.
Polishes like potions, 
painted on with such slow and careful strokes,
clear then pink then crescent moons of white.
The lavender lotion, the warm towels.  

Guilty, as I’d been raised otherwise,
sitting on a stool in my mother’s studio. 
The smell of damp clay. 
The air warm if the kilns were firing. 
I’ve never met an interesting woman with a good manicure,
a common pronouncement—
usually while wedging clay.
And we would roll our eyes,
the two of us, 
deliciously defiant against the world.

Toes were another thing. 
Home sick as a child, 
I was guaranteed every toe a 
different color. 
Bottles of reds and pinks and oranges,
spread out like little pots of sherbet.
My hand resting on top of hers
while she stroked on the polish. 

Her fingernails would remain  
rough and unadorned.  
But as her body turned against her,
she began to allow herself pedicures—
more and more flamboyant, her toes
bloomed magenta, violet, indigo.                                                                                          

And at the end,
after she stopped eating, 
after the loss of speech,
her feet, shrunken like a Han madam’s,
fitting easily in my hand,
I brushed on the Grape Pop, 
Wild Wisteria, Purple with a Purpose, 
toe by toe, stroke by stroke.



Up on the twentieth floor,
needing to stir, 
to flex and stretch,
I rise and pace along the glass wall, 

and see the red-tailed hawk
that has suddenly soared into view,
catching an updraft with the barest tilt of his wings,
feathers splayed and radiant. 

He moves in slow circles
above the pigeons, the people,
light, shadow, light, shadow,
his tail one moment fiery red, 
the next burnt umber. 

To see this world as he must.
All canyons and cliffs, 
earth and sky,
friend and foe,
and no confusion over which is which.  

website photo.jpg

Laura Schulkind is an attorney by day, where she is entrusted with others’ stories. Through poetry and fiction she tells her own. Her chapbook, Lost in Tall Grass, was released by Finishing Line Press in May 2014 and her second chapbook, The Long Arc of Grief, is forthcoming, also with FLP. Her writing has appeared in  The Broad River Review, Bluestem, Caveat Lector, Crack the Spine, The DAP Project, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Dos Passos Review, Eclipse, Evening Street Press, Forge, The Good Men Project, Gold Man Review, Legal Studies Forum, Light Journal, The MacGuffin, Minetta Review, OxMag, The Penmen Review, Pennsylvania English, Poetry Expressed,  Reed Magazine, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Talking River, Tiger’s Eye, Valparaiso Review, and Willow Springs. Her work can be found on her website:, along with musings on why “lawyer-poet” isn’t an oxymoron.    


Posted on October 24, 2018 .