Ellen Steinbaum

In the grainy picture the tiger looks
a little bored while the boy,
his hand placed lightly on her back, 
seems poised to leap away if she
should make a move. The Russian parents
love this souvenir: between the acts
the lions, monkeys, bears are props
for children’s photographs. There can be
accidents, of course, the story says--
a toddler bitten hard enough to break his skull,  
a schoolgirl who now wears a leopard scar. 
One child holds back, is allowed to go,
instead, for cotton candy; another whispers, 
“Do you think she is full?” while sitting warily
beside the lion. The circus owner reassures, 
pockets the extra cash and shrugs, says risk
is everywhere in life.

Ellen Steinbaum

From two rooms away the sound is startling:
the printer, unattended, is cleaning itself,
grooming, like a cat, but with a notice-me noise
the way our newest musical contraption,
wakes us with burbled clearing of its throat.

Even when we aren’t there, want nothing from them,
our inventions yearn to serve, call out to us and
want attention--do not forget us, they say,
when you sleep, dream about us,
keep us close, keep needing us.

Ellen Steinbaum

In this story every detail is fantastical: 
the Australian town called Wagga Wagga,
the floodwaters rolling up on shore
chasing tiny uncountable spiders
to higher ground. That’s what it says,
“uncountable spiders,” though we know that,
given time, they could be counted. 
And then you see the picture of the field, 
the trees, the gauzy dog and, no, that isn’t snow
but the heavy webs of the uncounted spiders. 
Who can explain these things? Yet you can
click the link and see how flooding
made spiders climb, as well, into Pakistani trees
which, although different from
the Wagga Wagga trees are likewise
veiled by evidence of spiders spinning
desperate rescue, counting only on themselves.


Author's Commentary: Since "Day at the Circus" and "Another News Story” grew out of straightforward news stories, it felt as if making the facts of the stories into poems illustrated the difference between poetry and prose. And with “In Our Image," it amused me to recognize how our devices resist being taken for granted and long for reassurance; that seemed familiar.

Here, by the way, are photos of the Wagga Wagga spider webs which, you have to admit, are pretty spectacular.

Ellen Steinbaum pic.jpeg

Ellen Steinbaum is the author of three poetry collections. Her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and is included in Garrison Keillor’s anthology, “Good Poems, American Places,” “The Widows’ Handbook,” and “A Mighty Room: a collection of poems written in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom.” An award-winning journalist and former Boston Globe columnist, she writes a blog, “Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe” which can be found at her web site,