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Red Scare by GENE GRABINER  for the Rosenbergs  June 19, 1953   We lived in Parkchester the summer they burned those other Jews. Mom stuck to the radio fear in her face. The neighbors spoke softly. Dad came home worried— they’d gone once to a commie camp so the Senate might get them too and […]

Three Poems by Gene Grabiner


Red Scare


 for the Rosenbergs

 June 19, 1953


We lived in Parkchester the summer they burned

those other Jews.

Mom stuck to the radio

fear in her face.

The neighbors spoke softly.

Dad came home worried—

they’d gone once to a commie camp

so the Senate might get them too

and the angel of death passed over our house.


In July the Times said a mother

plunged from a fifth story window,

infant daughter in her arms;

a doctor and his wife were found dead

after drinking “poison cocktails.”


Riding through the Midtown Tunnel,

Harvey from across the street warned:


pull up your socks,

the water might rise

and we’ll all drown.


One day in August, Harvey,

who we thought had no elastic in his socks

made the front page,

shot his wife

and two sons

piled up on one side

of the bathroom door,

Harvey on the other

doing the government’s work.






When the slim disease came to Sing-Sing,

the hacks would shove in dinner

on metal trays with brooms:

a quarantine shuffleboard


He had blotches on his face, or his teeth rotted

or maybe he was queer, with a strange cancer—

worked in the kitchen

So when other cons

burned his cell, he got administrative segregation,

was sent to the hospital—

out of the narrow alleys

of their lives


One time, this lifer met with the counselor,

filled out a form,

handed back the pen

She just sat there,

pen untouched on the table


When the slim disease

came to Clinton, hacks in the yard

wore goggles, gas masks, gloves


In the beginning

AIDS fingered eight thousand when it came inside



Hardly Seen




At Jefferson’s home, the slave quarter

foundations along Mulberry Row

are invisible

from his backyard, the Winding Lawn.

Cook-slave Edithe Fossett’s

cave-room held eight of her children.

It swims under my feet on the South Terrace.

Our docent, who doesn’t mention those places

must be prompted by a question.


The great man is buried

in the fenced-in family plot

an obelisk

guarding the memory

of the Declaration’s author.


At the parking lot a plaque

by an open dirt patch

framed by a wood rail fence:


slave cemetery.


[s]lave cemeteries were the first black institutions

in America.


Next day, late morning at the hotel.

Most guests are gone, beds get tossed.

The familiar cart with towels, refuse bags, cleaning tools.


Briefly whisking in,

and out of the empty rooms—housecleaning,

two black ghosts, this man and this woman at work.

Gene Grabiner’s poetry has appeared in Rosebud, Ilya’s Honey, Blue Collar Review, J Journal, In Our Own Words (ezine), Earth’s Daughters, HazMat Review, and other journals and anthologies. He was a runner-up in the William Stafford Award Competition, has been featured at the Jackson Heights Poetry Festival, in New York City, has read at IFPOR in Toronto, and was a semi-finalist at the “Discover”/The Nation national poetry competition, Unterberg Poetry Center, also in New York City. Grabiner lives in Buffalo, New York and is a SUNY Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus.

Editorial Note: (Please Read Closely Before Submitting)

Poets Basement is now on Facebook. Find us as

To submit to Poets Basement, send an e-mail to CounterPunch’s poetry editor, Marc Beaudin at with your name, the titles being submitted, and your website url or e-mail address (if you’d like this to appear with your work).  Also indicate whether or not your poems have been previously published and where.  For translations, include poem in original language and documentation of granted reprint/translation rights.  Attach up to 5 poems and a short bio, written in 3rd person, as a single Word Document (.doc or .rtf attachments only; no .docx – use “Save As” to change docx or odt files to “.doc”).  Expect a response within two months (occasionally longer during periods of heavy submissions).

Poems accepted for online publication will be considered for possible inclusion of an upcoming print anthology.

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