by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling

A tiny grasshopper, the color of jade,
lands on the worn wood deck in front of me.
First, I think it’s a leaf;
then it turns itself around toward the bay
and I see its shape, its little paperclip legs,
moving forward like pistons in an engine,
picking up speed, and then,
rocketing into space all the way to the water!
Such incredible energy in such a small machine,
while I, this old woman,
struggle to stand.

I started writing in high school and haven’t been able to stop since.

The Block

by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling

We moved into our apartment on Second Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets in 1970: my seven-year-old son, merchant-marine husband and I.  It was a walkup with five rooms and a terrace, large enough for planting flowers and even vegetables. We installed a picnic table and deck chairs.  The view was a parking lot, not very pastoral but teeming with sunshine.

Next door was a tombstone showroom filled with handsome marble monuments, inscribed in English and Hebrew, awaiting their eventual owners. Past that on the First Street corner, was a ramshackle old house inhabited by Gypsies, whose modus vivendi involved selling stolen car batteries at bargain prices, often to their original owners. A busy Puerto Rican funeral parlor stood on the Second Street corner.

And a block away on Third Street was the Men’s Shelter where many of our nearest neighbors lived. They were young and old: junkies and alcoholics and sad homeless madmen. When we walked our dog, he lunged at those who came too close, barking fiercely. It didn’t seem to bother them; they were probably used to it or too high to notice.

The Seventies saw the beginning of surprising changes in the neighborhood, occurring gradually over what we used to call the Lower East Side. Now they named it the East Village, giving it a sexy, bohemian aura associated with Greenwich Village. Young white strangers from elsewhere started moving in, drawn by the promise of glamorous danger.  We called them, scornfully, Yuppies!

And then, the residents became aware of the changing scene.  They sold their businesses for high prices, raised the rents on their apartments and joined the growing real estate cabal that forced many of them to move away.

Living alone in the apartment, having broken with my husband; my grown son gone, I started getting hints from my landlords that they would be selling our building and could not predict the new owners’ plans.  They clearly wanted me out and showed it by cutting off the heat, hot water and gas, refusing my rent checks and other nasty strategies.

Finally I stopped resisting and relocated but convinced my son, now married and a father, to move back into his childhood home.  He is there now, still paying our modest rent and fighting legally to remain while the war of money roars ever more lavishly on.  Bars, restaurants, chic boutiques, antique shops flourish on what used to be, charming, shabby old Second Avenue, a place preserved only in our memories.


I began writing in high school and can’t seem to stop.


Ode to Stolichnaya

by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling


Oh, tovarich, shining one,
you share my evening journey
to kitchen, table, TV…
Your chilly clarity, imported from abroad,
charms me.


My handsome father, born in Kiev,
preferred Bourbon,
But I choose your brilliance,
those crystals cascading down my throat,
the smile in the green company
of  olives that enriches the flow…
Ah, Stoli, comrade, precious diamond;
I praise you



Harriet Sohmers Zwerling is an ex-expatriate, explorer, educator, experimenter; author of two books: Notes of a Nude Model and Abroad, an Expatriate’s Diaries.  Also a grandmother, awfully aware of the waning of time.

Three Afternoons at Beach Point

by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling

Breeze wrinkles the water and one lone
gull sits on the sea wall, seeming
to contemplate the blue pleats below.
Three cormorants rise up and drop down,
their strange shapes, arrows in the sky.
One small sail seems stuck on the horizon
and here I sit, waiting for you.

High tide; bay sloshes lazily against the shore.
I, solitary as the distant passing sailboat…
My calls unanswered.
A man kayaks by, sliding along like a dish
on a table top,
and here I sit, waiting for the world.

Today a wild wind smashes steely waves
against the shore.
Alone on the deck I am attacked by air,
ripping at my hat, yanking at my hair.
The small flags shimmy; dance a rhumba.
Shake it, shake it, shake it says the bay,
and I sit here waiting for tomorrow.


Harriet Sohmers Zwerling iss an ex-expatriate, explorer, educator, experimenter;
author of two books: Notes of a Nude Model and Abroad, an Expatriate’s Diaries.  Also a grandmother, awfully aware of the waning of time.

55 Christopher Street (the old days)

by Harriet Sohmers Zwerling

Three steps down, you push the heavy wooden door and enter the eternal twilight of the bar. No matter what the time of day, the season, it is always evening there——the light a mellow Jack Daniels amber.  When you enter, the people on their stools turn their booze and smoke-dimmed eyes toward you like half-blind moles surprised by a sudden light. They peer hopefully at you.  Now, who is this?  Someone new? Interesting?  But they know you.  One gets up and gives you his stool. In the tarnished mirror behind the bar, your face glows, pale.

The air is white with cigarette smoke.  The jukebox, famous for its selection of old jazz, is playing Billie Holiday, singing “God Bless the Child.”  Most of the patrons ignore it and pursue their endless conversations heavy with gossip. These are the regulars. They reminisce about bartenders from the Sixties, about brawls and crimes, encounters and betrayals.

The wood of the bar is smooth and warm as flesh. Glasses sparkle, lined up for use. Rows of bottles glimmer, flaunting their brilliant labels and swan-necked pourers.  The worn, wooden floor slopes gently down toward the toilets. The women’s room, slightly fragrant from the herb smoked there, has been the scene of many transactions——sexual, commercial, criminal. A writer OD’d there on methadone.  The door is inscribed with ancient messages of love and hate.

The Forties phone booth, near the WC, is also redolent of weed, another haven for those who require a bit of privacy. Its olive-colored quilted metal walls are a directory of enigmatic numbers.

Between five and nine the regulars are present.  They are not young: painters and writers, a New Yorker cartoonist, retired professors, CEO’s, architects—-drinkers all.  By ten, when the live music begins and the young crowd shows up, the regulars are gone, melted away like ice cubes.  But they will be back tomorrow.  This is their place, the Fives.

Harriet Sohmers Zwerling is an ex-expatriate, explorer, educator, experimenter; author of two books: Notes of a Nude Model and Abroad, an Expatriate’s Diaries.  Also a grandmother, awfully aware of the waning of time.