Summer, and the city smells

like sweat and trash.  The streets

are overrun with immigrants

and tourists - all the locals know

not to go outside.

I'm in Chinatown.  The fruit

and vegetables carts run

along the sidewalks

of Canal.  Block after block

is a pageantry of shapes and colors -

anything and everything for sale:

Do you need a Lucky Cat?  Are you

looking for star fruit?  Ancient

herbs to solve your ailment?

But I've come here for one reason -

to find the First Shearith Israel Cemetery,

hidden among the buildings

and busy streets - a pact of land

lost to the average passerby.

I find the burial ground: a few stones stand

chipped and weathered away.

I stare at the worn-down writing

on each marker, the glyphs are foreign to me

in sight and meaning.

Perhaps I am never meant

to understand.  My people, their wisdom:

passed on through generations

only to halt here.

The sky turns grey and still,

a storm settles off to the south.

The streets keep moving -

people passing stare at me

but keep moving.  Not even time

can keep up to the churn of traffic.

Chatham Square falls beneath shadows:

our bodies slip into silence.


Judson Simmons is a graduate of the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Program, and holds a BA in Writing from the University of Houston.  His chapbook, The Hallelujah Hour, will be published by Amsterdam Press later on this year.  Judson’s poetry  has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Folio, Evergreen Review and other journals.  


After finishing grad school, I had a brief stint of unemployment.  To pass the time I explored New York City; after hearing about the First Shearith Israel Cemetery, I knew I had to visit it. I walked all around Chinatown looking, and soon found this cemetery.  Fenced in, I could only see the markers from a distance.




Copyright 2009