the shades of ivy hill, newark

by Ruth Holzer

Image: Manual of the Common Council, 1914
Image: Manual of the Common Council, 1914

Somewhere in the shadow
of the gutted poorhouse on the hill,
the fat lady still chops fried onions

and chicken liver in a scarred wooden bowl
while yammering at her husband
so all the neighbors can hear.

Down the street a deranged woman,
naked under her mink coat, escapes
again, chased by her guilt-filled daughter

into the yard of the widowed Neapolitan
sisters who continue impassively
tending their grapevines.

The foster mother in her big brick house
harbors another brood of thugs.
Even the crooked Russians are looking to get out.

In 1916 Newark’s inadequate almshouse on Elizabeth Avenue was replaced by a spacious complex at Ivy Hill, on the city’s western limits. In the 1950s the adjacent poor farm became the site of the Ivy Hill Apartments. The poorhouse buildings have since been demolished.

This piece appeared in the Journal of New Jersey Poets in 2010.

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