You may remember that we introduced you to Susan Marc Lawley back in March of last year.  At that time we said, “She is an archeologist of the deepest, most hidden regions of the heart–the places where loss has been preserved and where revelation is brought to light,” and that, of course, still holds true.  As we were thinking about the Poetry Sundays to come before the day of hearts and flowers arrives, we reflected on how Sue Lawley is a poet of the facts, as well as the fancies, of the heart—and at this particular time of year, that is like insulin in the face of a box of chocolates. 

With that introduction, we are honored to present one of Susan Marc Lawley’s poems of place from her collection Hieroglyphics of the Heart and her reflection on how familial love gives rise to the romantic kind.  This is Part One of a two-part conversation with her.  You can look forward to Part Two and more of her transformative work in March.



Greenwich Village, 1950



Pushcart peddlers

on cobblestone streets


Fruits and vegetables

Stacked in pyramids


Weight scales sway

in morning’s breeze


Mothers in housecoats

Fathers in suits and hats



Canvases on display

Annual Art Show


Malcontents march

under the great arch


Hare Krishnas, white-

robed, hand out leaflets


Bakers, butchers, leather-

workers exercise their craft


Lines are crossed

Identities sought



Bohemian hangout

Cafes and jazz clubs


Literary circles

Brentano’s on Fifth


Off-Broadway theater

Circle-in-the Square


Runaways’ haven

I was there



Reprinted with the poet’s permission.


I grew up in an Italian America clan in Greenwich Village where family meant everything to us.  We all lived within a few blocks of one another and spent a great deal of time together.

My maternal grandparents, Johanna (Jennie) and Bernie, were both raised in an orphanage and got married when they were only 15 and 16 to escape its harshness.

Given that background, they were intent on creating a loving atmosphere for their three children and twelve grandchildren.  They knitted us together with very strong family bonds.

My parents were neighborhood sweethearts and married just after WW II.  Although they were very much in love, they were not very demonstrative in public or in front of their children.  My father often joked that a strong marriage depended on having a good hearty argument every so often.  As a result, I witnessed my parents debate issues more often than I saw them embrace one other.  Nonetheless, I never doubted that their love for each other ran deep and true.

My mother’s capacity to love seemed endless to me—which made it all the more tragic when a misdiagnosis of her breast cancer cut her life short.  She loved her two siblings in ways that stunned me and that I will never forget.  Part of her love surfaced as “truth talk”—telling her sister to leave her philandering husband and chastising her brother for not staying with his wife for the sake of their six children.  But when her brother divorced his wife and she sent all six kids with him, my mother agreed to take the two littlest ones into our modest apartment and care for them.  This type of sibling sacrifice was one I had not seen prior or since. The type of love my mother taught me was “love in action”—not of words or promises.

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  • elizabeth Hemmerdinger January 30, 2012 at 10:04 am

    “Love in action.” I’m gong to try to live by that. Thank you!