By Nicole Steinberg


is a ritual, passed
along in slow drags
of the fingers—foundation
swept across cheekbones
in runny smears, stark
beige until it blends.
Salt, pepper, and ashtrays;
we keep the kitchen
warm with smoke and
sweet, still-wet hair.
A silver lipstick tube
rolls ribbed between us.
One day I’ll carry
your bones in sacks.
I’ll remember cotton
pressed into your eyes
and up your nostrils. I’ll be
sorry they ever listened,
when I said I wanted
to see you that way.
You switch to violet
lips after some years,
which clash with your
bleached hair. I miss
the old burgundy outline.
Draw lines to prevent
bleeding, you once explained.
Hold back the color
of your mouth and
every careless thing
it wants to say.


I took my dark, Semitic wiles on the road.
The train was empty and that was lovely,
everywhere an open space. En route to Berlin,
I held the bathroom mirror and spoke
to my mother, foreign leaves of foreign trees
and the conductor’s garbled nothings
blurred above my head. She thinks I’m going
to get myself killed. Lost forever. I remember
a straight-haired little girl at the kindergarten
table with eyeglasses as petite as her pink
Polly Pocket. I crushed them in my fat hand,
arranged the lozenge lenses next to the legs,
purple plastic bird femurs. Like chicken,
I picked it apart. My fellow passengers,
the unwed Jewess rides among you, come
to tour your capital of tragedy. Love me
out of guilt like an unborn sister, a mother’s
final scowl before death, the very nose
on your face you’d hack off just to belong.


Truly, everything is monstrous,
even wild horses and especially
their heads. The tree trunk necks
of boys who finish sandwiches
in three bites and the impatient
lumps that harden in their freshly
bleached briefs. We’re all so warm
and pink, it’s obscene. I don’t want any
part of it. It took me years to learn
simple tasks: how to snap my fingers,
tie my shoes. My mother’s early gaze
full of worry that love would escape
me, too. If I peel back my breast, I’ll find her
passport heart, stamps still smeared
from all the quailing in Queens, the tears
in Tel Aviv. She taught me this: the way
a woman travels, under a moving
shadow of small panic; all too aware
that even a plane about to crash,
for one bright, myopic moment,
will fill completely with the sun.

Today’s poems are from Undressing, published by dancing girl press, copyright © 2014 by Nicole Steinberg, and appear here today with permission from the poet. “There is No Romantic” previously appeared via 30 x Lace, and “My Dark, Semitic Wiles” previously appeared via Leveler.

Nicole Steinberg is the author of Getting Lucky, now available from Spooky Girlfriend Press, Birds of Tokyo (dancing girl press, 2011), and two new chapbooks in 2014: Undressing from dancing girl press and Clever Little Gang from Furniture Press, winner of the 4X4 Chapbook Award. She is also the editor of an anthology, Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, 2011).

Editor’s Note: I love chapbooks. And small presses. And books that are little works of art to hold in your hands, open, and immerse yourself in. Undressing is such a book; one of 200+ books made to date by dancing girl press, which publishes titles “by emerging women poets in delectable open-run handmade editions.” Delectable. Yes. From its beautiful cover art to its textured binding and hand-cut pages, this is the kind of creation that can never be replaced by an ebook.

Within its pages, Undressing is just that. The poet sheds her veils like Salome, stripping off not only clothes, but skin, revealing the raw bits of flesh and bone, organ and memory, that comprise an inner life. At times Nicole Steinberg looks at herself critically, as a woman does when considering her reflection in a mirror, her point of view filtered through a smog of American cultural misogyny. At other times Steinberg puts on the dress of her mother, of illness and loss, of the guilt and introspection and distortion that remains.

Amidst a maelstrom of pop culture, feminism, religion, sex, relationships, and memory, there is something hectic in these poems, like the pile of clothes at the foot of a bed. But amidst the torrent there are moments in which the poet forces us to slow down and face the reality she unveils head on. There are lines so poignant they wash over their more topical surroundings, forcing us to breathe and remember we are engaged with an artifact: “Draw lines to prevent / bleeding, you once explained. / Hold back the color / of your mouth and / every careless thing / it wants to say.” “She taught me this: the way / a woman travels, under a moving / shadow of small panic; all too aware / that even a plane about to crash, for one bright, myopic moment, / will fill completely with the sun.”

Want to see more from Nicole Steinberg?
Nicole Steinberg’s Official Blog
Buy Undressing and Birds of Tokyo from dancing girl press
Buy Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens on Amazon




In the bleak hours of an afternoon in Spain,
I sprung free from my grandpa’s kitchen,
the smells of peppermints and pears, and headed
to town for an afternoon of people watching.
The streets were hand-cut paper forests, flush
with tawny kids in flat sandals and psychedelic
friendship bracelets. Feminine footwear obsessives
in custom-made minis smoothed on rice vapor
lotion, delicate contessas fit for a summer wedding,
see-through and filigreed. I dreamed of leaving home
for an evening at the Tropicana, sexy and dazzling
in a glamorous dress—understated, ethnic girl
plucked from an under-the-radar haven; someone’s
graceful holy grail, soft ephemera on his fingers.


I could write a paper on the topic of lip balms,
groovy grandma that I am. With ’60s playfulness
and a flapper’s flounce, I stick to the Great Gatsby,
intensive scalp treatments, and statement-making
tchotchkes. Cat boxes and flea markets don’t
satisfy me; I roll around in sea foam suede, take my
Rolls Royce on an unexpected trek around Morocco.
I’m more of a jump-or-you’ll-miss-it haute hippie,
a sucker for patent trim and embroidered-in-Bali
sequined corsets. I’m looking for a biker-gone-boho
grandpa—rugged but genteel, with an air of London
street-cool—for stomping through exotic gardens,
splurging on tie-dyed wedding cake. Two spicy,
rock-and-roll piglets rubbing bohemian noses.


How often can you wear a bleeding heart
and get away with it? I spend most of my time
getting calls from complete strangers who want
to run around with a Fitzgerald heroine, architectural
and sweet, unbearably twee—or an unstoppable
rock star, a morbid candy-colored centerpiece,
loose and right at home in a disheveled bed.
I step into another world and feel like nothing;
off-hours, I’m a timid violet with a limp handshake
that peeks out of my coat sleeves. No one ever
detects the potential of a wispy girl lost in her clothes,
so I audition for drama, slip on some sugar. The line
between adorable and alarming gets thin, thin, thin.
I slouch and watch the layers flutter, lit from within.

Today’s poems are from the forthcoming Getting Lucky (Spooky Girlfriend Press, Fall, 2013), and appear here today with permission from the poet and the press.

About the Book: Getting Lucky is a collection of sonnets culled from the editorial copy of Lucky, a newsstand publication about shopping and style. By adopting the magazine’s gendered and glossy language, Nicole’s poems explore contemporary ideals of beauty and femininity, as well as female-specific narratives we see in media, culture, and everyday life.

Editor’s Note: Let’s Get Lucky! It’s a beautiful love story. A small press dedicated to publishing women poets meets the kind of witty, thoughtful, cheeky gal whose poems literally step out of the pages of a fashion magazine. Both are determined to give voice to the underrepresented. In seeking out a luminary to spearhead today’s female poetry contingent, the publisher finds a poetess who brings the cultural misogyny inherent in today’s society to its knees. While wearing a fabulous pair of heels.

The arts, in America today, are in grave peril. Poetry in particular is under-read and scathingly underrated. A Corporatocracy is on the rise, and the core of humanity is being marginalized. There is no money in art, and less money for the arts. Those of us who write poetry, who publish poetry, do so out of pure love and unwavering passion. We depend on our community for support—to read our work and to enable its very existence.

Getting Lucky is a fantastic, cutting-edge book that critiques the culture of fashion and shallow materialism by giving feminism a whole new meaning. Spooky Girlfriend Press is a self-described “tiny two-person operation” with huge vision and an impressive track record of publishing forward-thinking, critically-acclaimed works. The two have come together to make magic, to make dreams come true, and they need your help.

Via Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform that empowers ideas, Spooky Girlfriend Press has started a campaign to fund the making of Getting Lucky. Take a stand for art today. Show the world that poetry matters. Help the voiceless sing from the rooftops. Our government is not going to do it. Big corporations are not going to do it. It is you—readers of poetry, writers of poetry, lovers of the underdog, believers in vision and heart—who are going to make the difference. Donate to this campaign today and let’s Get Lucky!

Nicole Steinberg is the author the forthcoming collection Getting Lucky (Spooky Girlfriend Press, 2013) and Birds of Tokyo (dancing girl press, 2011), and the editor of Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, 2011). She is also the founder and former curator of Earshot, a New York reading series for emerging writers. She hails from Queens, New York and currently lives in Philadelphia.

Help Nicole Steinberg and Spooky Girlfriend Press Get Lucky!
Donate to Getting Lucky‘s Indiegogo Campaign


Nicole Steinberg’s collection of sonnets, Getting Lucky, was created using editorial copy from Lucky, a women’s style magazine. Each poem contains original text from an issue of Lucky and is named for a woman featured in that issue.

By Nicole Steinberg:


If you want to go a tiny bit hipster, here’s how:
Grab a romper and go to town on the all-natural train
from Jackson Heights to lower Manhattan; mask
any contempt for the matchy-matchy girls under
your straw fedora and un-meltable hair. Always
have Kate Moss’s precise address and phone
number at the ready; indulge in vanilla soft-serve
and run wild through dressing rooms, completely
guilt-free. Hide your arbitrary fears and Connecticut
weakness; call forth your tough, punk rock shine.
Stay pretty in the heat of the New York chill
you’ve dreamed of since you were a teenager, even
after you’re no longer new. Lick your black pearl lips,
telegraph a dose of danger. Let it come, dripping wet.


Chances are you’re like me, a midsummer night’s
cowgirl. You smoldering petal, the sweetest
corsage, juicy bloom on the branch—I clutch
the cling of your loungewear, extract the spectrum
from your wafer heart. My preference is the pink
fruit of your cheek: its fancy stitch and classic
mascara smears; the scar, a striking solitaire.
The angelic décor of your hand seems simple,
ideal for rings and glinty bangles—I let it
make me happy. Cat-like nails: perfect, perfect.
For you I’m Michelle Pfeiffer cinched in a belt;
crazy stacked receptionist hung on a hook.
I’m an old-fashioned girl, all over your brow
and under your gown, constantly tied and tasting.


Beneath the V-neck shirt, it’s all about a schoolgirl
spin; peer closely. The surface is gamine, library-ish—
you couldn’t find a sweeter-looking chanteuse,
preppy Marie Antoinette fresh out of the gardens
of Versailles. Slim cuffed khakis and studded
ballet slippers; thick, translucent frames over pale
quartz eyes; brass bullet hanging from a wispy chain:
officially the most fun thing in an long, long time.
Sumptuous, stormy, ultra-malleable—I didn’t know this
icy puppy could be so subversive. My vanilla rosette,
coquettish lightweight who never learned how to drive:
Skip the country club for bedhead and heavy metal;
flash an arresting stretch of shoulder. Get twisted and
wild in full-throttle red: the gleam of your lips, just-bitten.

(Today’s poems originally appeared in H_NGM_N and Lyre Lyre, and appear here today with the permission of the poet.)

Nicole Steinberg is the editor of the literary anthology Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens, as well as an editor at large at LIT magazine. Her poetry has appeared in H_NGM_N, No Tell Motel, BOMB, Gulf Coast, and other publications. She is the author of Birds of Tokyo (Dancing Girl Press, 2011) and founder of Earshot, a NYC reading series. She currently lives in Philadelphia.

Editor’s Note: I recently saw Nicole Steinberg read at the Moonshot Magazine Holiday Party at Brooklyn’s own The Home Of. After the reading, when I asked my fellow audience members what they liked best, each and every one of them gave the same response. Nicole Steinberg was the clear audience favorite, and the words on everyone’s lips were Getting Lucky.

Steinberg’s reappropriated text functions as a telling commentary on modern American society and the gendered molds it imposes on women and girls. The counterculture revolution urged from within the controlled, sonnet form gives tongue-in-cheek nods to the norm while flipping the bird with glittery fingernails.

Want to see more by Nicole Steinberg?
Lyre Lyre
Wicked Alice
Gulf Coast
The Nepotist
Buy Birds of Tokyo
Buy Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens