ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Judy Kronenfeld

The Backs of Things

The backs of things, the undersides—
dull unglazed bottom of my winter after-school
cocoa cup. Underside of the weekend
so anticipated: mama Sunday-cleaning—
no lunch at the cafeteria,  no classmates
invited over to play. The sooty bleak back of our
tenement—unfinished to my eyes
as the back of our cheap side table—
unlike the front facade where modest stonework
borders double glass doors with wrought iron grills,
though in the echoing lobby, only scarred
black and white tiles—all furniture
removed, lest it be vandalized.

On icy days I hurry through the narrow alley—
quickest route home from school.
Dingy back windows closing in on left
and right. The hunched door to the basement,
grim as the entrances of Soviet apartment blocks.
Churn of washing machines somewhere
in the dimness. Dank smell like dirty water
draining. Uneven cold cement beneath my feet
coming through the soles of my saddle shoes
as I wait for the small lit box of the elevator
to descend and rescue me.

My cousins in the suburbs do not live
this way. They have trim backyards
for games with next-door kids
and windows giving onto trees.

Yet, whisked upstairs, apartment key
on a long ribbon around my neck quickly
fished out, I’m so happy for the three rooms
that are Us—6E—the flush of steam-heat
on my frozen face, my solitude.

From our back windows I can see
the impassive back windows a leap of air
away, shining with the outside world. How pure                              
they seem now against the winter-sharp
blue sky. How comforting the thousands of citizens
cocooned in their own humble, warm seclusions—
the close, anonymous simultaneity of other lives.


Goodnight, Hands

We lie still, in bed,
as the clock nears 1 A.M.,
after the dishes are done,
after our teeth are brushed and flossed,
after I’ve smoothed the ointment on your back
that keeps your skin complaint contained,
after you’ve applied the patch to my spine
that mitigates my pain, and we’ve each read
a few pages of flowing words that carry away
the day’s small sadnesses...

Goodnight, graceful wooden torso
of a woman on our low bureau—
and our beautiful proportions long outgrown.

Goodnight bristling pen and ink
in the sturdy black frame—drawn
by your mild father, gone so young,
half a century ago.

Goodnight Balinese shadow puppet
on the opposite wall—gifted by once
best friends.

Goodnight quiet hands, loosely intertwined—
until we each voyage, alone,
into the dim cave of sleep.


Judy Kronenfeld’s full-length books of poetry include Groaning and Singing (FutureCycle, 2022), Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017), and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Her poems have appeared in four dozen anthologies and in such journals as Cider Press Review, Gyroscope Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, New Ohio Review, Rattle, Valparaiso Poetry Review and Verdad. Her memoir-in-essays, Apartness, is forthcoming from Inlandia Books in 2024/2025. Her sixth book of poems, If Only There Were Stations of the Air, will be published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in late March or early April 2024, and her third chapbook, Oh Memory, You Unlocked Cabinet of Amazements!, will be released by Bamboo Dart Press in June, 2024. Judy is Lecturer Emerita, Creative Writing Department, UC Riverside.

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