Author’s note: This poem takes place in 1936, during the Great Depression and before the Presidential election, while my mother Florence Levin was in medical school and about to vote for the first time. I think it has striking parallels to what’s happening now, weeks before our own election.
She’s on the bus headed for the Clinic
where mothers with infants wait in line,
she thinks, I’m only one generation ahead of them,
she can see row on row of high school classmates
receiving diplomas, a sea of immigrant parents
behind them, citizens who pledge allegiance,
pay taxes, obey the laws,
and she remembers being small
perched high on her father’s shoulders,
seeing Mama march with all the women
down the middle of Fifth Avenue,
banners with a million signatures—
her father throwing back his head laughing
What a country! Women! Jews!
How her parents in ’32 walked arm-in-arm to vote
for Roosevelt. The only thing to fear is fear itself—
not true, look around, plenty to be scared of,
bank lines, bread lines, clinic lines,
the other day she joined a group of women
around a Union table, LEARN TO VOTE
in English and Yiddish, Register here—
what’s it like inside the booth?
Private, she thinks, you draw the curtain
as for someone in labor giving birth—
It’s her stop next, she has time and change
for a sandwich at the automat,
in a week she’ll stand in line to vote.
Maxine Susman, a Kingston resident, is the author of seven poetry books. The poem above is from “My Mother’s Medicine,” which tells the story of her mother, Florence Carol Levin, a young Jewish girl from Brooklyn who graduated during the Great Depression from the only all-women’s medical school in the country.
Susman appears along with Juditha Dowd for a virtual poetry presentation through Princeton Public Library on Wednesday, October 28, at 7 p.m. featuring their works centering the lives and stories of women. For more information visit www.princetonlibrary.org.