The Innisfree Poetry Journal

by Karen Greenbaum-Maya on Judy Kronenfeld

Shimmer by Judy Kronenfeld. WordTech Press, 2011.

As I read into Shimmer, Judy Kronenfeld's latest collection of poems, I was left with a poignant sense of the transience in her—in my—life. Certainly transience cannot be captured—and that's the point.  What Judy Kronenfeld does capture, however, is the shimmer that one's passing leaves on the air.  She registers the traces that are left, the strings that are plucked.  

She might long for aspects of our world to be changed, but she accepts on a deep level that change cannot be commanded.  Thus, in this collection, Kronenfeld has written what amounts to a pastorale.  Of course, this ex-New Yorker, retired professor, well-received writer and scholar, mother, wife, and daughter, is no blank constructed Shepherd, in utter harmony with Nature.  Rather she accedes to the Nature of the world.  Kronenfeld the Constant Shepherd woos and corrals the moments of her consciousness, praising the whole wild lot.  As Rilke wrote, Ich rühme.  ("I praise," but also, "I make known.")  She has delivered a locus amoena, a beautiful place where we may become connected to evanescence, a neat trick if you think about it.  We explore not only transience, but inner and outer worlds in transit.

In that clear place, consciousness may pick out what makes us most alive.  Everything that lives is worth her focus.  She has no use at all for going through the motions.  She insists on uncovering what had been buried, as in the prose poem "Precipitation of Memory":  "I keep on wanting to find them again, unfermented chestnuts, so to speak, that I didn't remember I saved . . . and I smell it now, my reward for which I am grateful, that sour, pungent urine smell that makes my nostrils recoil."

Her poems alight on the varieties of departure:  connection giving way to alienation, and alienation to connection; the pain of duality and the revelation of unity, marital love and the certainty of the partner's eventual death.  Her father's dementia, then his death, give us, among others, "In the Doctor's Office Two Weeks before His Death":

What was my father dreaming,
hunched in his wheelchair,
zipped neck-high in too warm fleece,
. . . fingers meekly interlaced
in soggy lap?
. . . Even his waking
was a kind of dreaming.
. . . But suddenly he smiled with such
sunburst graciousness—what was
he dreaming?—and murmured so
distinctly in his sleep, "That looks
so nice! as if his soul leapt
to an instant of shining reassembly,
like broken glass in a film run in reverse.

Humor and terror mark the changes (read:  losses) of resilience, memory, that come to anyone living past 50 in "That Pause," where

. . . the train of memory
comes chugging through,
flags flying, bringing magnanimous
to the station, like a candidate
on a whistle stop tour . . .

as well as in "5:00 A.M.":  ". . . Mired in a dream/of dissolution; teeth/dangling, bones/crazed—then up/ but not, bodiless . . . ."

For me, one deceptively brief poem shows what Judy Kronenfeld can do, as well as who she is.  

"So Quick to 60 Blues:  New Names for the Paint Company"

pink tongue after blueberry slushee

zoo mandrill bottom

raucous scrub jay feather

birth eyes navy

dome of heaven

snow shadow

heart of flame

ocean sky sky ocean


mind's end


The first two lines give us shades of blue that are not found on paint chips, that no child could forget, plus some fine chiming.  The lines all have the blues, each image a snapshot from the heart's album in both consensual and private colors. What scope this little poem has!  In thirty-one words and ten double-spaced lines, images flashing, she encompasses high and low, points our gaze as high and as flat as it can go, moves effortlessly from intensely small to oceanic release, and finally—dissolves.  I don't even want to ask her what earthly color is mind's end.  This is the Ages of (Wo-)Man writ small but sharp, without the sneering.  

My favorite line is "ocean sky sky ocean."  I have spent much time gazing at the horizon point where one becomes the other, back and forth, trying to photograph it.  Judy Kronenfeld achieves that experience in only two words used twice.  What economy.  She has scattered assonance and chime the way Kay Ryan plants rhyme, and not one verb in the lot.  Unquestionably, Judy Kronenfeld gots craft, and she can write in form (as in "First Salvo," in which the villanelle form does follow its function, the recurring lines reproducing how the writer is haunted by death and violence coming to someone's children in the Middle East).  Her gifts achieve their weaving purpose without drawing attention to themselves.  That's pastoral humility.

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