ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Judy Kronenfeld

I Get News of Your Death, Cousin, Four Decades after You Disappear

And I remember your Dad, rumored violent, who smiled
and smiled and smelled of too-sweet cologne,
your co-dependent Mom, suspiciously
bruised, who loved you so fiercely
she kept you weak, and always chose appearances
over the truth. And heart- and mind-damaged
beautiful you, left helpless and alone
after their deaths, then driving away help
with your mad phone rants.
And I think of when we were girls,
and our families used to meet,
how each hand tried to climb the other’s tree
as you snuggled your fists under your chin—
your scribbling fingers caged hamsters turning
their exercise wheels, your own little player piano
shivering a happy tune. Such a chill of pleasure
to await your uncle’s and aunt’s embraces!
You were like a blue-lipped child
just summoned from the sea,
shaking deliciously as she pictures
being wrapped in fleece.

A nurse said you died alone,
an old woman in a facility for adults,
after sixteen friendless years. How little
a life can be. At a time when lonely death
is legion, and could be anyone’s—
whether loved by a host of friends and kin,
or last in the family line—
I record your Yahrzeit in my book,
and try to think of you at peace—
no naked wolf bearing down
on the fold, no waves of rage,
no heart like sea-crushed shells.



Such rare visits, and usually on the third
day, my middle-aged son,
living a continent and ocean away, says—
as if he’s had a chance to ponder it,
and it’s quite a pleasant surprise—
“It’s really nice to see you,
Mom,” and gives me a quick embrace,
like a light wool shawl stolen
from my shoulders just as I begin
to appreciate its warmth.
Which is notable, nevertheless,
because his greeting and good-bye hugs
always preserve the space between us
like a band of insulating air,
and make me think of the way men
make even quicker work of mutual pats
on the back. But, this time—
he was in the kitchen,
rinsing dishes for the machine,
and I was ferrying the last ones
from the table, and everyone else was, I don’t know,
blocked out by the shine, when he said
“It’s really nice to see you, Mom, can I have
a hug?”—praise memory’s push-down storage
unerased, praise swift retrieval
and “Of course” (of course!) I said,
depositing my dishes on the counter with tempered
alacrity. “It feels good to hug you, Mom,” he said
during the long seconds beaten out
like gold to blazing brilliance,
“And to hug you, too,”
thickly, I murmured.

Judy Kronenfeld is the author of four books of poetry and two chapbooks. Her most recent full-length collections are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Cimarron Review, New Ohio Review, Natural Bridge, Offcourse, One (Jacar Press), Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other journals, and in two dozen anthologies. She is Lecturer Emerita, Creative Writing Department, University of California, Riverside, and an Associate Editor of Poemeleon.

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