Judy Kronenfeld’s most recent 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, Connotation Press, DMQ Review, Ghost Town, One (Jacar Press), Pedestal, 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.
Late Afternoon, January, Southern California
As if an invisible bell
had been dropped
over the world. The leaves
of the willow stopped swaying
back and forth like a porch swing.
The feathery palo verde
stopped dusting the sky.
The long gold light
lay down. Shadows pooled
on lawns. Every rapt thing
paid the utmost attention,
If ever I had been
that quiet, listening,
what I would have heard.
Coming Up from Under, after Surgery for Multiple Breaks
At first you’re pushing up against heavy, dark
water, for what feels like far too many seconds,
though a few hours before you were dropped
into it, abruptly, as if it were luxurious
and soft as feathers into which to fall
and fall and fall without harm.
When you finally reach the light,
your eyes fluttering and re-closing,
your body’s weightless as a floater’s
in the sea, shallow ripples of cool drowsiness
washing over it. In these moments,
no replay of gravity’s knife-at-the-back
yank, of the shatter of bones
like ice in a bag crushed
by a mallet. Freed
of your broken self, you ride
your own calm swells
of breathing, as if, at a distance,
you are watching healing weave—
from the crumbled inside out,
from the ravaged edges in.
The Unasked Question
In memory of MB
Hearing your soothing voice on the phone
the last week of your life, when you were in
home hospice, was like riding in the comfortable
family car to the darkness between stars.
How many of the dying would talk as you did,
even if they could talk? If I am not in pain
asking for obliteration,
I imagine I, like some, will weep
for my own consciousness, unable
to take in its extinction,
though the world has pre-existed
our existences for busy millennia,
and thrived without our kind
for billions of creative years—
all that vast time pristine as ice sheets
untouched by human being.
The cancer had come back, again,
and this time—well, perhaps
you’d had a lot of practice imagining,
perhaps you were utterly weary
in your skin.
But, it was unchanged you, salt of the earth
you were easing towards, who celebrated
the cushion of family, the wise friend
riding along as hospice nurse, the delightful absence
of clergy, even pit stops with a little assist,
and a lunch of pastrami on rye, though one
of your last. It was unchanged you,
weakening like a signal traveling on
past us, but still sending your extraordinary
frankness, your gift of lightening others
into comfort, whose words, heard
in my sadness before we severed the connection,
answered my unasked pressing question.
And the answer was: “You know,
dying is not so bad.”