The Tailor’s Three Sons and Other New York Poems


I hadn’t realized just how many poems I’d written about New York until my friend Mary suggested I gather them for this collection. My love for the city goes back to childhood and these poems were written over quite a long time. A more recent one, “The Tailor’s Three Sons”, was inspired by a visit to the Tenement Museum in New York’s Lower East Side while others were inspired by friends and family; I am fascinated by people and their stories. Having lived in England for many years, I often think, What if… and have tried, in my writing, somehow to meld my life in England with the one I left in New York. Here are poems about people, the process of work and art, and distance, in time and place.

REVIEWS for The Tailor’s Three Sons and Other New York Poems

“These are fluent, communicative, unselfconscious poems, yet they display great emotional tact. Mara Bergman knows instinctively what to include and what to leave out. Her poems, with their American inflection, hold a mirror to here and there, to people, places, incidents and to the human heart. Quietly stylish, quietly risk-taking, they show just how much felt life poetry can illuminate.” – Moniza Alvi

“Mara Bergman’s poetic voice is a subtle one, and deserves re-reading: the voice of the poems is based on the rhythms of ordinary (American-inflected) speech and has an admirably ‘natural’ or even casual feel to it that can be deceptive. Mara is a serious artist and the poems themselves really repay scrutiny. The developments are subtle and hard to predict, the endings open, the writing itself completely free of affectation. There is a genuine search going on here – both poetic and personal. Mara’s work captures the vividness of the small detail and makes it resonant, taking it out into the wider world.”
– Susan Wicks

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Nights I can’t sleep, I think about the tailor’s
three sons and how twelve people lived and worked
in a three-room apartment meant for four when
the Lower East Side was the most crowded place

on the planet. What was it they did? The cutting or basting
or sewing, right here, the finishing or pressing over there
while the clock’s heavy ticking kept them sane, insane?
Afternoons they’d elbow through the teeming streets to catch

some air, some news, but after a long day, what else had they
to look forward to but a bowl of soup and then to sleep
on the red velvet sofa which looked, from a distance,
more lavish, and though cherished, was so narrow

it is hard to imagine enough room for even one young boy
to sit down. I think of the sons because when night came
at last, and the whirr of machines had flown out the window,
the clock’s ticking rocking like a lullaby, they would

lay down their heads side by side on the sofa,
rest their throbbing feet on wooden chairs and lie, suspended,
to sleep the sleep of the young and the exhausted,
dreaming their immigrant dreams in thin air.

First published in Poetry Review


That Saturday I lay in bed, head throbbing,
throat on fire, my stepdad chose it
from the library, a biography

about three sisters who lived somewhere
in England. I loved to read
how they loved to write, I wanted to be

a sister like that. If it had been another day,
if I’d not had another throbbing throat…
I’m searching for it now, remembering

how I lay there turning pages
as the pain began to ease, releasing me
into winter on some windy heath.

First published in May Day & Other Poems, Cinnamon Press


If Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Seymour had moved
out of their two-bedroom apartment with my four cousins
as planned, I never would have met Susan Silver,
who lived in their courtyard, Utopia Parkway, Queens
and grew up with Sharon and Tara, and years later
I might not have known her at university
or become best friends, lived together in that red semi
on East Street next to Feeney’s Fine Foods and Drink
with Marla, the actress who spent weekends in New York City
with a jazz musician twice her age. The three of us
ate only with chopsticks at a cable spool we used as a table,
visited Dunkin’ Donuts in the middle of the night
and found, once, a star on our receipt and won
another dozen. We lived up the street from Mary and Albert
with their parakeets Sonya and Raskolnikov, and Peter, the potter,
who borrowed my Brother typewriter to write a book
on Abstract Expressionism. I would never have heard
that Susan met an English guy that summer while camping
with her boyfriend in Vermont, that he would borrow a sleeping bag
and have to return it. She would not have rung me up
to join her in Manhattan, and I would not have said no and
she would not have cajoled me until she convinced me to go.
I would not have seen him standing in the doorway
of his friend’s apartment on East 13th Street and thought Yes.

Prizewinner in the Troubadour Poetry Competition 2012