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Judy Kronenfeld


Judy Kronenfeld’s last three books of poetry are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017), Shimmer (WordTech, 2012), and Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, 2nd edition (Antrim House, 2012)—winner of the 2007 Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, DMQ Review, Ghost Town, Rattle, and Valparaiso Poetry Review, among other journals, and in two dozen anthologies. She is Lecturer Emerita, Creative Writing, UC Riverside, and an Associate Editor of Poemeleon.


Decades together, yet still
white phosphorus in our chests.
Who strikes first? Does it matter?
We are each tinder.

A word misread as a missile
on either’s radar—
and bombers rip
placid skies.

Afterwards, scorched, exhausted,
we both dig in and stoke the embers
in private underground shelters
flanking the de facto DMZ.

But we grow chilled and forlorn,
and crawl out of
our cellars, and creep back
across the landscape
we’ve laid waste

to lie, wordless,  in each other’s
arms—as if just awakening
from the same shocking nightmare,
in the only place of safety
and warmth.

The Watchers

Forbearant clouds—

frothy with ruffles
endlessly adjusted,

airy shoulders turning
and turning away
so slowly, no pose

Or burgeoning into
clear air, or deep-veiled
and misted, or dispersed—
without protest.

Or, in the late afternoon,
floating like deserted
cities, on a translucent,
cyan lake,
swallowing darkness
before the sky does
high above us—

who stride the shining earth
for this brief
startling moment.

Inner Zest

Wearing her decorous “street dress”
with its collar of lace, my mother ordered only
lettuce and tomato on toast—dry—
at non-kosher American restaurants—
a punishment of a sandwich—
or the virtuous vegetable platter without butter,
and talked mostly politely to my father,
though she could never get him
to pull out her chair before she sat down.

At home she wore a “house dress”
with tattered hem and a tear in the chest
to cook and clean, and spat Sha!
The neighbors! in an exaggerated
whisper, whenever my father
raised his voice.

At home, she ate sandwiches of thickly
buttered bread and radish, oily and pungent;
she ate jellied calves’ feet
with garlic-rubbed toast—Jewish soul food,
humble, but relished with peasant abandon—
and she wasted not: sucking the juice
from chicken bones, gnawing them
to near-extinction, siphoning the luscious
marrow from the bone-chunk in the middle
of her lamb chop into her mouth.

But, suddenly diabetic, she more than followed
doctor’s orders—stricter than the laws
of kashrut—with religious fervor,
both inside and outside, and grew thin
as a saint, on mostly vegetables—
dry once more, until she died.

Outside the house, as a kid, shivering,
I wolfed my first un-kosher
burger, rare and bloody,
and soon, I admit, coveted the taste
of all the discoverable forbidden fruits:
lobster and shrimp in spas of butter,
lamb seethed in a mother animal’s yoghurt,
ham crackling and clove-studded.

And now, on the scarce occasions
I enjoy them, outside or inside
(virtuous eating being much
more common), I flash on
and savor the salt of her:
not carving her carrot
with fork and knife,
but munching with unabashed, lip-smacking,
bone-crunching gusto.

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