Judy Kronenfeld’s fifth book of poetry, Groaning and Singing (FutureCycle) came out in February, 2022. Previous collections include Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017) and Shimmer (WordTech, 2012). Her poems have appeared in over three dozen anthologies and in such journals as Cider Press Review, New Ohio Review, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Offcourse, One, Rattle, Sheila-Na-Gig, Slant, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verdad, and Your Daily Poem. Judy is Lecturer Emerita, Department of Creative Writing, UC Riverside. She lives in Riverside, California.
I remember my long-gone mother’s fears—
how she huddled us home from the subway stop
in the ominous night, furtive as the mugger she dreaded;
how she dipped only her feet in the broad foam
apron of the sea, and leapt back
when a far wave reared. How she always anticipated
the dire turns of fate that scared her—
like having her daughter pulled under
by “wild beast” girls up the street,
and ruined (in the nineteenth century sense).
She never quite melted into my birthright
pot, unlike her youngest brother,
who gently chided her for babying me
too much. He’d make a quiet ceremony
of reading my essays for school—eyes beaming
the adult attention that said I was
a person—while I waited, breathless,
for his sanction.
Yet today, I keep hearing his inconsolable moan,
thirty years ago, when she died, “Stella, the starke,
Stella, the starke,”—her name, strangely joined
with strong. Was her strength to have survived
the light-annihilating stroke, the months
of recuperation lying monument-still,
the second stroke, and then—almost—
surgery for the broken hip?
Or was my uncle’s cry a door I ignored,
that might have opened to the buried past
none of his generation ever shared with us
(we, the American kids, never asked)—
to Vienna, once their home, to Vienna abandoned,
to the Olympic, sister vessel of the Titanic, heading towards
New York, carrying the whole family away from
the coming darkness, to my uncle, a pre-teen barely out
of sailor suits, and my mother, his big sister,
a grown woman ten years older—not yet
Could she once have moved with head unbowed,
not merely long-suffering, but brave,
“Stella, the strong”? I wish I had asked.
Did she clasp her kid brother in a fierce hug
as their ship rose and sank on gray
Atlantic waves, and he sobbed?
Did she say It’s an adventure, Izzy,
but you’re safe! and lead him to the promenade
where the wind-driven spray
blew in their faces?