In Chasing Steam, Jamie Stern traces the life of her grandmother, Esther, from war-torn Bialystok, Poland to Paterson, New Jersey. From Esther's birth in 1906 to her first job in America selling oranges. From the Paterson opera coach with a school of speech and drama to the poetry of Wordsworth, Longfellow and Shakespeare. Sustaining loves carried through her long and determined life, with a leather purse holding dinner rolls and a deck of cards hiding 52 twenty dollar bills. Jamie Stern conjures Esther for the sheer pleasure of her company and chases her through a life, always hard, always hidden, getting as close as she could: Since I was taller than Esther on her knees,/ I bent over until our shoulders touched./ Until our eyes were level./ Until her breath stopped at my cheek.