Liz Axelrod On Escaping a Broken Home Through Writing


She can blink both eyes alternatively
but she can’t eat gluten

Peanut butter sticks to her
dimples and causes unsightly bumps

on rice cakes and crumbles scratch
waste on her submarine hips

She tries to lay flat and smooth truth
out of her pasted lines and pebbles

She purports to describe the experience— 
With pen and a few more loose-leaf sheets

she’ll craft a pile large enough to stave
off paper cuts and wipe the blood

from last night’s dive
into the glass cloud highway quarry— 

All turquoise sheen and tractor trucks
unloading piles of useless pastel gravel


I thought leaves grew green cause you told me
they were made from sun and dirt and water. 

I thought grapes were purple cause
you told me they swapped color with the leaves in fall. 

I thought love was artificial like those Barbie dolls
you gave me when I asked what I would look like when I grew.

How can anyone have a waist that small and hips so big
and how plastic must I be to bend myself to Barbie life

when Ken doesn’t even have a penis. 
Did you hear they want to outlaw hugs in Tennessee?

They say hugs are to be discouraged and sex is evil. 
Of course, it’s impossible if you try it with your Barbie body.

You told me I would bloom like leaves and grapes
and now I spend my hours drinking them fermented,

seeking compensation for my anti-light dependant actions. 
I thought growth required only sun and dirt and water. 

Manhole explosions

A girl I know
won $200K
from NYC
when one broke her ankle. 
It’s getting harder
to walk up
Subway steps. 
My legs take
on cement
and all the messy
cardboard homes
and body odor. 
The same man
asks for dollars
on the corner
every day. 
His collar veils
his scruff and
blown up face. 
We walk by
for his frown
and blessing. 

Instrument of Destruction
The Demon is always moving about at my side - Baudelaire

The garbage men came
as usual after the rain
Big ass trucks and men
with black gloves rolling over
broken tree trunks
roots up-end
pulled deep from under
sidewalks through cement
Wifi up and no bars
haven’t worked in days
the house is still a mess of fear
swirling vortex winds
and wilding
Meteorologists show
the center in full color
before it hits the ground
they tell us she’s a whopper
and we better hunker down
Our politicians smile and tour
while garbage piles
on sand filled streets
and homeless trucks
of storm struck people
sweep but cannot clean

& A with Liz Axelrod and editor Joanna C. Valente

JV: Tell me about the making of your poem “Photosynthesis." 

LA: Photosynthesis came out of a workshop with the wonderful Elaine Equi. I was pondering childhood and growth and then I came upon this article on my Google page about Tennessee outlawing holding hands, hugs and kissing - with that and the trees, the leaves, the wine, the Barbies, and the loss of innocence - it all fell into place.

Where is home for you? How did you make it home?

Home is the beach park across the street from my apartment (which of course is home, but much more cluttered and book-laden then my empty beach, plus there’s always dishes to be done or clothes to be put away and that makes thinking difficult even on good days). I walk past the skateboard kids and the swings and the geese and quietly shimmy up ahill to an easement that few traverse (you have to go at certain times of the tide or else it can be quite tricky). I spend time sitting on this broken cement barrier shaped like an L and watch the tide come in. I’ve spent my worst days there - crying and railing at the Universe, and my best days - laughing and holding hands with my Love. I’ve attached a picture.

When did you begin writing? How did it happen?

I’ve always been a writer. Since I was able to hold a red crayon I would put down lines and sing to them, or make up stories about my stuffed animals and dolls. As I grew, reading became my best escape from a broken home and many, many moves as a child. I would devour two or three books a week. I always did well in school because of my love of writing/reading. I kept diaries and wrote poems and stories on everything I could find from napkins to old cards to album covers. They were honest sloppy tales of loneliness and heartbreak (I had crushes on so many boys in school and truly experienced what "unrequited” means). It was only after going back to college as an adult and studying creative writing that I got a handle on my writing as an art form - but the building blocks were always there.

What’s a good day for you?

Waking up on time and getting myself and my daughter off to work and school with smiles instead of grimaces. Also, the best days are the lazy ones where I can lay in bed with my love and not feel any pressure to do anything but move closer together.

What is your favorite place in NYC?

Favorite places - there’s too many to name just one but I can narrow it down: The West Village. The general area of the New School, where I grew up, Washington Square Park, and Cafe Loup. 

Editor's Note: These poems originally appeared on our old site in the fall 2013 issue.


Liz Axelrod is Web Editor and Poetry Reader for LIT, the literary journal of The New School’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program where she completed her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (May 2013). She received her bachelor’s degree from the Riggio Writing and Democracy Honors Program and was Managing Editor of two award-winning editions of 12th Street, The New School’s undergraduate literary journal, and Editor-in-Chief of Liz has been making the rounds of the NYC Poetry Circuit for close to a decade and has been both reader and judge at the Bowery College Poetry Slam, a featured poet at the Yippie Museum’s Monday Night Poet’s Café, The Phoenix Reading Series, The New York City Poetry Festival at Governors Island, The Cornelia Street Graduate Reading Series, The Southern Writer’s Series, Smalls Jazz Poetry Series, The Lolita Bar, The Renegade Reading Series, Couplet, and The Living Room’s Stories & Songs Residency. Liz is also a reviewer for Publisher’s Weekly. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Cat Oars Fiction Collective, Lyre Lyre, 12th Street, The Rumpus, The Brooklyn Rail, Electric Literature, Yes PoetryNap Magazine and the Ginosko Literary Journal. Her first book, Go Ask Alice, was published by Finishing Line Press.