ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Judy Kronenfeld

History of the Chewy to the Present, Plagued Moment

Our son, at two, bestowed its special name,
but it began as a clean cloth diaper
flung over my shoulder, when he was an infant,
to keep wet gurgles and spit-up
from my clothes, as I burped him
after nursing. I would lift him from me
to lay him down softly in his bassinet,
and he’d come away clutching the diaper
in his fists; soon one, or a smaller
substitute was required to gentle the night
for rest. In spite of the moniker he gave it,  
he never chewed it so much
as cherished it with fingers or cheek.

To my surprise, I recognized a version,
on a long-ago visit to his grad school digs—
a piece of ancient yellow tee shirt,
already mellowed by first grade,
poking out from under his mattress.

Now he’s middle-aged, at home
on another continent. We haven’t seen him
for two years. We’ve hardly seen

These days, his dad and I find ourselves holding
the little pillows filled with beads—
bought for our arthritic necks—
like small white pets against
our chests, until we fall asleep.


Exile and Solidarity

            1. Expression of disgust.
            2. Epithet for indignant disapproval.
            3. Forceful epithet to signify rejection.
                                                —Leo Rosten
Feh! was the soul-destroyer
in her clan, reducing her
to a puddle on the floor
when her mother deployed it,
spitting it at her as she showed off
her just-bought snazzy dress—though she knew
it might not be her mom’s true judgment
so much as the residue of some stick-in-the-craw aggravation
as yet unresolved. Feh! cut through layers
of joy—like a warmed knife through
ice-cream cake she’s never gonna
get a piece of—when she’s several celestial
spheres over the moon about a new boyfriend—
who’s a decade younger than the doctor
with the family seal of approval who just
dropped her—and a pizza chef, to boot!
and her favorite aunt pronounces him Feh!
cutting her dead.

More scornful than bah! more disgusted
than bleah! and not even slightly
funny, like yuck! or blech!
Feh! was far worse than tsk-tsk, than rolling eyes,
than a heavy sigh; it left nothing to discuss,
to work with, to redeem. It was reserved
for the reprobate, the beyond lost, the hopeless.                                           
It had the whole army of righteousness
at its back, excommunicating the recipients
of its derision by fiat, making her long
for the heartfelt Mazel Tovs and Siman Tovs
of her tribe—exuberant as hora dancers
ringing the wedded pair in approbation and love.



We brought the dog home
from the vet, washed clean,
but neither diagnosed nor treated
for her cough—which was nothing
obvious. And then, quite suddenly,
her agony began. She placed herself
by her water-bowl, lapped and lapped,
went out the dog door to dig a hole,
vomit, or have diarrhea,
came in, belly distended,
lay back down on the cool floor
by the water, then rose again
for the slow work—
to the yard. Sometimes she stayed there
as the night wore on,
wheezing, facing the fence.
And no way to ease her.

In her eyes: absence.

Finally, spent, we slept restlessly.
At 5 A.M. I found her, stiff
on the patio—a little pool of blood
at her rear and a trail of ants
going to and from her nose.

In the dreary dawn, back in bed,
I dreamed she rose on new-sprung legs—
a Lazarus dog. Her eyes reflected light
clear through, and shone
a spectral phosphorescent green.

I called, and later that morning, a man came
to collect her in a black trash bag.
He crouched to study her,
then glanced at us—the parents,
the two teenagers, all quietly numb. “She looks like
she was a good dog,” he said,
and gathered her in.

She used to leap from rock to rock on canyon trails
and fresh-sage-smelling hills, her quick eyes
checking back for us—Good Dog!—
and flashing electrically answering love.                                                                                                                                          
And then, in that sparkless look before she died—
as if our two species had never mutually communed—

the coldest reaches of the universe,
the blackest places between stars.


Judy Kronenfeld’s fifth full-length collection of poetry, Groaning and Singing, was published by FutureCycle Press in February 2022. Previous collections include Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Recent poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, Juniper, Loch Raven Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, New Ohio Review, North of Oxford, Offcourse, Pratik, Slant, Verdad, Your Daily Poem, and other journals.

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