Judith Baumel

Thumbs Up

On certain fall mornings it's possible to walk Eighteenth
from Tenth to First into a white sun blinding the tunnelled street.
From within that obliterating light come shades,
figures loading and unloading cargo, holding briefcases or babies,
leaning on fire trucks. The hints of two seasons cross in the air,
as, on either end of the extreme school year,
shuffling curious September or restless June,
the humid New York heat will descend on classrooms
where even under high ceilings the thick air becomes torture.
Onto the old half-varnished seats little legs pour moisture
through the clean wool plaid of new school clothes, thinking
New Year's, thinking Columbus Day, thinking Thanksgiving,
or through cotton sundresses, waiting for hydrants and hoses and 
and the teacher despairing, shuts the lights for an illusion of
In the gift of half dark children rest their heads on desks, some 
some notice the vegetable smell of soft old wood.
They all begin Thumbs Up: Heads down, fists closed, thumbs
up, one child wanders the room to touch a random waiting
whose owner may go down the hall to the water fountain,
return, and touch another, and so through slow and slower time
all thumbs, all mouths are touched, each knowing
the approach of the next, subtly, through that dark flow,
each growing up into the shuffle of new mornings gnarled
with purpose, out on the streets, watching the world's
business emerge from the shadows, come into relief, stop caught,
go past, and be finally as brilliant, seen backward, as Plato


Judith Baumel is a poet, critic and translator. She is Associate Professor of English and Founder and former-Director of the Creative Writing Program at Adelphi University. She also lectures on modern and contemporary American poetry at Oxford University, UK. Her books of poetry are The Weight of Numbers (Wesleyan University Press, 1988) for which she won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets and Now (University of Miami Press, 1996).   


Executive Director, 1985-1988

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Poem © Copyright by Judith Baumel. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with the permission of the author.



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