ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Judy Kronenfeld

Kutche Nacht

Summer: apartment windows open
to the hot and humid city dusk—
near sounds of dishes tinkling,
unintelligible voices in unknown rooms,
and nearer, in our little kitchen,
my rarely visiting uncle, a favorite,
laughing with Mom and Dad.
They have each come in
to my dim bedroom to say goodnight:
smoky kisses and mustache tickles
from Uncle and Dad, a kiss on each cheek,
and a tuck-in of my light blanket from Mom.
I kick it off as soon as she’s left.

Soon I’m back in the kitchen I’ve been
banished from, eyes blinking
in the glare, dragging my rag doll
by a leg. Dad is pouring from the neck
of a clear circular bottle that says
SLIVOVITZ into Mom’s tiny glass.
She downs it at one go,
then shimmies her head
like a swimmer shaking water
from her hair. I’ve never seen her drink.
Uncle strikes a match and brings it
to his cigarette, breathes out smoke in rings,
slips me a smidgen of chocolate babka
and winks. And now, the best moment:
a gleam in her eye, Mom shrugs her shoulders
and declares, “Oh well, it’s Kutche Nacht,”
and Dad sweeps me up and onto his lap.

These many decades later, I still can’t translate
the phrase. A friend’s friend finds a definition
of kutche for me in a Yiddish dictionary:
heap, pile, or clod, and also
a storage place under the stove 
for wood and saucepans and whatever else!
Could it be that Kutche Nacht, as my cousins think,
refers to sleeping badly, all jumbled,
out of sorts and unsettled—
something to complain about, sourly,
when waking up? Not for me.
It meant a surprise small-scale Saturnalia,
a muted Carnival of Misrule—adults
in cahoots with the kid—until I fell asleep
in my father’s arms, and was carried, unknowing,
to bed.


Who Will Be with Them?

The shadows in their rooms
slip down the walls, like flags
down masts; their windows’
light is soon to be effaced,
their balance on the earth
is fraught, their fingernails,
neglected, packed with dirt.

Let human angels hover near
the few who suddenly, stubbornly,
jettison their walkers—coveting
a dream of upright dignity—
and delicately right them,
linking arms on either side,
before they fall, yards from
the dining room.

Let some surrender wholly
to the pleasure of food, as though
they were first discovering it—
almost swooning at the succulence
of butter-dripping shrimp cut
and fed in manageable bits,
closing their eyes as they lick
raspberry sorbet from a proffered spoon.

And when the window’s light is nearly
swept away, as if by the speeding
hour hand of a greedy clock,
may someone they love sit close to each
of them, cradling their bony fingers,
and whisper how important
their lives have been. 

Judy Kronenfeld’s fifth book of poetry, Groaning and Singing, was published in February, 2022, by FutureCycle Press. Her previous collections include Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017), and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Cider Press Review, Cimarron Review, Gyroscope Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, New Ohio Review, Offcourse, One, Pratik, Rattle, Slant, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verdad, Your Daily Poem, and other journals, and in more than three dozen anthologies.  

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