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Sample Poems by Judy Kronenfeld

Ex-New Yorker Remembers Her Natural Landscape

Fortress city-
houses cresting ridges
like battalions of horses,
battlements of near tenements-
flaming suns leaping
from window to window...

Tree-house city-how shocking my first sight
of Western towns, like knots in the ribbon
of the road, sediment in the cup
of sky

Infinite city-shocking their visible limits
crumbling into desert,
compared to your manifold crannies,
unvisited planets,
your range after dimly inhabited
range fuzzing into blue like mountains,
and beyond those your faint white
blur like cloudy space dense
with stars

Intimate city-greasy as dirt
under my nails, close as soot
on my eyelashes, as the secret odors
of plebeian and patrician thickening
in public washrooms, as their voices twanging
down my spine, spilling
entire histories, descents into hell,

Vertiginous city-from your highest towers
other buildings lose
their moorings; thousands
of lanterns on swaying
ropes rock out of a fog

and far below, five o'clock tides
of dusky forests surge forward,
each tree moated by its inner
and night falls fast,
so fast, piling up in steep
soft drifts, canceling
cornice, column, piling up
in streets of ash and embers

Oh my city of sorrows

Aloft, in a City Again

I wake to an imagined
sound: wooden blind
cords, with their little plastic
bells, lifting and slapping gently
against the sills
in a sturdy breeze. As if I were
waking in my childhood bed, stories above
the New York streets, windows opened
to the regions of
the upper air, air of laundered
freshness, air with the sea
in it.
Here, halfway around
the world in dusty Damascus,
where green glints of minarets
stipple the night sky, I am awakening
to thin white drapes which inhale-fill
with light-and exhale the still
cool air, billow over
open roof-patio doors,
subside, my ears tranced
by the after-vibration
of the muezzin's call, the clear
tinkling of a few morning
dishes. I am blanketed again
in sums of rich
privacies-theirs whose tea steeps
in a large jar on an adjacent roof,
theirs who grow mint and cumin in small pots
on a ledge-while I lodge
deliciously in the privacy
of my own quiet body, the white
billowing drapes inhaling, filling
with light, sailing me through
all my morning cities.

First Salvo

My heart leaps in my throat, I cannot speak-
they're flaunting with the "mother" of all bombs;
I have a daughter in the Middle East.

She has three milk-white scars on her left knee.
"Surgical" strikes roar fire, then the strange calm.
My heart leaps in my throat, I cannot speak.

Mushroom clouds ascend in air smoke-greased.
Her name is Deborah, her name Hanan-
my shining daughter in the Middle East.

When palms and almonds blaze beneath blitzkrieg,
I see the birthmark on my son's right arm.
My heart leaps in my throat, I cannot speak.

Crossfire will get Johnny, a Tomahawk, Malik,
though each one goes to battle saying psalms
for his God's judgment on the Middle East.

Her name is Fareeda, her name Denise,
his name is Samuel, his name Bassam,
my heart leaps in my throat. Someone must speak.
My children all live in the Middle East.

This War

On my car radio, NPR reports the funeral,
at Jerusalem's military cemetery, of a soldier
killed in the fight with Hezbollah.
His classmate, speaking in lilting
English, praises the dead
boy's love of hiking, love of country,
his commanding officer-translated
matter-of-factly, and roundly, as if
giving a recipe-praises his modesty
and enthusiastic participation; and I feel how
repeated and repeated and made ordinary
by repetition these gestures are, until-

from another planet, his mother's voice
rises from the wellspring
of pure grief, and I hear grief thickening
her Hebrew, so that even the flat
translation vibrates with it
My Yonatan, my Yonatan
my own tears spring with hers
I have loved you from the moment
you were born
and the windshield blurs.

I think of my own grown
American children, and my stomach
clenches, Stop!

Yet there is this brief, strange
exaltation of pain ascending through
the ceiling of the day into rarer air,
an exaltation of being pulled up short
by the ultimate, a terrible Hollywood aura
of war movie glamour, that deadens
the boredom of the quotidian-
the boredom of my current run
to the supermarket for orange juice
and a Rotisserie chicken for dinner-
a tiny bitter nub of attraction
I squinch my eyes against
and rub out.

It can't be that luxurious frisson-
can it?-that makes a mother say "I'm not sad
about my kids. Now they're martyrs
in heaven"? That makes a dry-eyed
commanding officer approve
the sacrifice of youth? Powerlessness
or pride then, propaganda? The romance
of a meaningful death must be so brief.
I roll my cart past robust vegetables
refreshed with mist and remember
reading what that Lebanese
mother first said-her tongue
dust-heavy in the galloping dust of Qana:
she heard one of the babies
pinned against her back in the rubble
cry, but she couldn't move;
she thought Fatima and Roqaya,

still warm, still lived... Here, I leave the clear and beautiful
aisles, I take home my cold, clean
orange juice, so sweet in a dusty
throat, my glistening chicken
dripping into its plastic pan,

though I am ashamed
to love them because Yonatan's mother cries,
because there is only dust
in Qana, because my own children
are so safe, for now,
on an American coast.