Shimmer by Judy Kronenfeld. WordTech
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
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
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,"
. . . 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
birth eyes navy
dome of heaven
heart of flame
ocean sky sky ocean
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.
Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a clinical psychologist in
Claremont, California, where she lives with her husband, an honest-to-god
rocket scientist. At one point, she developed cookie recipes for a
boutique ice cream shop. Later, she reviewed restaurants for
the Claremont Courier, sometimes in heroic couplets, sometimes
in anapest, sometimes imitating Hemingway. In an earlier life, she
was a German Lit major at Reed College and read poetry for credit. She
earned her B.A. in 1973, and her Ph.D. in 1982 from the California School of
Professional Psychology in Los Angeles. She started writing poems
when she was nine. Her poems and photos have been placed in many publications,
including The Dirty Napkin; Off the Coast, Umbrella, qarrtsiluni, Poemeleon,
Lilliput Review, Abyss & Apex, In Posse Review, Sow’s Ear
Poetry Review, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, Status Hat ArtZine, Waccamaw,
The Centrifugal Eye, Cæsura, and dotdotdash. She
was nominated for the 2010 Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, Eggs
Satori, was a finalist of note in Puddinghouse Publications' 2010 chapbook
competition. They tell her it will be published sooner or later.