Stella Padnos-Shea: 'I absolutely violate my family’s privacy'

Stella Padnos-Shea: 'I absolutely violate my family’s privacy'
Vincent Guth

Vincent Guth

The Wife

In my dream, I inspect your left wrist,
now part of the world beyond our connection.

I lean on your coffin, fog-eyed.
Our earth has been cut into deeply.

I can come apart at any minute.
Your clasped hands wear cold make-up.                                  

Under your white sleeve are bandages.
I am again drawn to what’s falling apart.

I’m afraid to peel them away, 
thinking I might tear your skin.

Like I would be the one to break you.

Stepsister’s Advice

Tell him you’re from a broken home,

boys love that. 

He’ll fall into the cracks. 

He’ll repair your floors.

He’ll bury himself on your skin like a scar.

Look at the way he talks with his hands,

like he’s bandaging your mind.

His eyes the color of airbrushed ice, like how mother spoke.

His lips can be scissors to shear your pain.

Open your silence-stained mouth and tell him:

no one touching, our bodies like shards, 

broken and lonely at home.

You don’t need to fade more.

Watch the air break like it’s burglarized.

He’ll approach you from all sides,

a jigsaw piece looking for a way to fit.

Let him finish you, like you’re a puzzle, 

like he’s a father.

Marriage: the Space Between the Betweens

I wonder what he’s thinking.
Does he know the answer.
Can he read the broken novel in my eyes.

His pillow rests slightly on top of mine. Crowding my thoughts. 
Or stealing. Sometimes I pretend to be sleeping alone.
I hear a slow moan as he sleeps, our canyon’s tour guide.

Do we need separate sinks. So our germs don’t mingle.
We enter or close each other, doors with a trick lock.
Which side am I on.

Who crosses, who stands ground, 
who wants more.
Our frayed edges suggest desire. 

We speak the same language,
deciphering our silence. 

A ceremonial “you” on the tongue’s tip
as we pledged instant infinity. 
Wars start real small.

Q & A with Stella Padnos-Shea and editor Joanna C. Valente

JV: How do you reconcile being a poet & mother? 
SPS: Everyone plays multiple roles in a lifetime. I hope that being a poet will help my daughter know that there is more to life than dull office work, steadiness, and losing the magic of life. Creativity can certainly help manifest a bit of much-needed wildness. And, to be too-honest, I would say that I am a better Mother and poet than wife. Something is always sacrificed.

You often write about family. Does it feel like you’re violating your or your family’s privacy in any way? Or do you feel it’s all up for grabs, so to speak? Writers notoriously struggle with privacy, is it something you’ve accepted?

I absolutely violate my family’s privacy with many of my current poems. I’d be lying to try to mask that fact. But what’s my alternative? Pretend that my interior and domestic life is a certain way to elicit, what, jealousy? A semblance of control? That saccharine glaze is for Facebook. Poetry better incorporate some harsh truths, otherwise, truly, why bother. Poetry is a place to explore my interiority. But I do love Yusef Komunyakaa’s line– “Don’t write what you know. Write what you are are willing to discover.” 

You grew up in New York City. How do you think that has colored your writing? Have you ever wanted to move?

I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem without at least one person starring. That is so New Yawkah; I can’t– and often don’t want to– get away from the crowds. Even my poems are populated. I think that moving out of New York City might be my biggest challenge in life (not counting my undergraduate years in upstate New York, with its cheap beer and other insane kids).

What do you keep in mind while writing? What aesthetic is most important for you?

Wow, this is embarrassing. I don’t know what my aesthetic is. I do want to straddle that line between embellishing language and honest content. And, the more I can keep my conscious mind from pestering me when writing, the better. We all know how it feels to be in “a zone,” where we are so engulfed in the moment’s activities that we lose track of time, lose track of our mind: just doing. That is the ideal framework for creative writing.

What’s your favorite place in New York City?

My favorite place in New York City is probably aboard the train with my 2 ½-year-old daughter, Mirabel. She applauds when the train arrives, and waits at the platform waving “Bye-bye, Q train” as it pulls out of the station. Toddlers find everything magical, even the crummy subway. (That was a lie for affect; I usually enjoy the crummy subway).

Editor's Note: These poems appeared on our old site.

Stella Padnos-Shea’s poems can be found in Chest Medical Journal, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Comstock Review,, and, an online collaboration with jewelry artist Margaux Lange. In an early incarnation, one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Stella also regularly performs her work at Studio 26 Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Having been employed as a college English instructor, jewelry maker, and therapist, she is currently embarked on her greatest and most challenging project yet: raising her toddler, Mirabel, while sustaining a marriage. Please find her virtually at, or genuinely in Brooklyn.