old jail on new street

by Margaret Tsuda


The old jail on New Street
has what looks
ironically like a
sedate, white painted
front door.
Over it a funny
electric clock with a
gaudy neon rim
keeps time.
Two wide and handsome
magnolia trees frame the walk
on either side.

when I drive by from work
sometimes the van is
in the yard and the
young men
the handcuffed young men
climb awkwardly down.

They can’t see the clock
from the side yard and
they don’t look at
the trees.

What do they see?

What would I see
if I climbed out of
a prison van
hunched and handcuffed?

despair and a
no-future world–
apprehension filling
my belly like wet cement.

car thieves and
drunks, yes.
But, men, too!

O, God!
There is more to
being a man
than this!

There’s joy to being a man!
There’s peace to being a man!
There’s confidence in
security in oneself and
loving and sharing.

But, who will tell them?
O, God! who
tell them?

Every day
van-load climbs down
hunched and
handcuffed beside
wide magnolia trees.

There must be
to tell them!
Is it
or me?

Parts of the old Essex County Jail on New Street (including the administration building, pictured above) still stand, in a ruinous condition, one hundred eighty years after it was built. 

Margaret Tsuda’s “Old Jail on New Street” first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor of March 29, 1971, and was republished in her collection Cry love aloud (1972).

my graffito

by Margaret Tsuda

If I were given to
graffiti, I would
chalk up on walls

Thought of as inimical
these two words are
obverse and reverse
coined of the same metal—
base or pure of our
own selection.

Ask some who knew
both very well:
the Apostle Paul
Florence Nightingale
Martin Luther King.
They will tell you that the
larger the
love the
greater the labor.


Four letter words?


img_8413-1 (3)
Image: Jordan Allen

Shortly after the United States entered World War II, New-York born Margaret Tsuda was evacuated from California to a Utah internment camp because of her Japanese ancestry. She later made her home in Newark, where she published two books of poetry. “My Graffito” appeared in the Christian Science Monitor of March 17, 1970, and in her collection Cry Love Aloud (1972).