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Right to Shelter

"Welcome to New York," says Dolly,

doing her best to sound friendly.

"You want coffee or vinegar?"

She's half asleep and her feet hurt—

that's the bunions, same as her dad—

half asleep and she needs a smoke.

The two aliens blink at her,

the little one's fur all puffed out

like a cold cat. It smells afraid.

Dolly's worked the shelter food line

eight months now, long enough to know

the lime whiff for fear, not perfume.

She crouches down to its small height,

holding out a bowl of oatmeal—

the alien kids love oatmeal.

Why did they come? What do they need?

They're outcasts, sure, but their spaceships

far nicer than the dorm rooms here—

the alien kid takes the bowl,

curls its tongue into the oatmeal,

its fur slowly settling back down—

they've a galaxy to choose from

but no place that wants them, no place

but New York City and Dolly

who's half asleep on her sore feet,

counting minutes till her next smoke,

the first friendly face in light-years.

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for thirty years. She is a Grand Master of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association and a three-time winner of both the AnLab Readers' Award and the Rhysling Award. Her latest books are from opposite shores of the poetry ocean: How to Navigate Our Universe, containing how-to astronomy poems, and The Sign of the Dragon, epic fantasy with Chinese elements, winner of the Elgin Award. Website:

Radon Journal Issue 6 cover art
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