Light Low­er­ing in Dimin­ished Sevenths

Judy Kro­nen­feld
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Grief catch­es you unex­pect­ed­ly in this col­lec­tion of poems — the grief you were repress­ing about painful events. The jour­ney from a hap­py past to an ago­niz­ing present is Kronenfeld’s major sub­ject. In At Home” she recalls her pre-teen years: 

Once I twirled in my sum­mer­room 
 from noon
 to sup­per­time,
 then, bel­ly filled
 with ham­burg­er and hashed
browns, spun
 into the what’s hap­pen­ing street.

The lilt­ing rhythm of that first stan­za sharply con­trasts with the last one, which is about the much dark­er present:

I’m jolt­ed awake in thick dark
en route to the bath­room, grip­ping
soft walls that col­lapse 
in a clat­ter of hangers.

The book pro­gress­es chrono­log­i­cal­ly. The mid­dle poems deal with the sad­ness of being a care­tak­er. In Insti­tu­tion­al” the poet describes the uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence of sit­ting in a wait­ing room in a med­ical facility: 

A med­ical sad­ness — of mold­ed
 plas­tic chairs and slumped
 a sad­ness no ele­va­tor music
 can lift…

 a sad­ness in which fear,
pushed down
 onto a con­vey­or belt,
 rides round
 and round
 like unclaimed suitcases. 

Present melan­choly is height­ened by mem­o­ries of serene moments of the past, as in Maid­en Voyage:” 

on the radio, Bach’s
Bran­den­berg, my first
sophis­ti­cat­ed music, spilling
like tin­kling crys­tal from city
win­dows as I lay in my high
bed — promis­ing
a life of wonder… 

Kro­nen­feld records the feel­ings of an adult watch­ing aging par­ents dete­ri­o­rate and the help­less anger and painful nos­tal­gia after their deaths. In Chrysalis,” the actu­al expe­ri­ence of wit­ness­ing a mother’s death in the hos­pi­tal is etched brilliantly: 

After we were shout­ed out in
a swirl of white
 the grenade of tears burst­ing
in my chest,
 I came back briefly to admire
 his clean work: just your chrysalis
 on the bed, like a drained glass
 left on a hotel room table 

And then the mem­o­ries of vignettes from the past begin, as in Names of My Mother’s Friends:” 

They touched knees on stoops, 
 coquet­tish, hung laun­dry togeth­er
 on wind-scoured roofs, smiled at me
 fit to burst, her nach­es theirs…
 and their
 names have been sent down to
the dark…
 they have gone out like lights,

 but they are still fra­grant
 as lace hand­ker­chiefs
 tak­en from a sachet-scent­ed draw­er—
 Oh Stel­la, Dora, Ida, Ger­tie, Pearl,
oh Rose.

Kro­nen­feld, in describ­ing grief, also evokes a past life at its hap­pi­est — in ret­ro­spect. And although the book is inex­orably painful to read, these poems pro­vide a kind of con­so­la­tion by artic­u­lat­ing the inchoate emo­tions experienced.

Eleanor Ehrenkranz received her Ph.D. from NYU and has taught at Stern Col­lege, NYU, Mer­cy Col­lege, and at Pace Uni­ver­si­ty. She has lec­tured wide­ly on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and recent­ly pub­lished anthol­o­gy of Jew­ish poet­ry, Explain­ing Life: The Wis­dom of Mod­ern Jew­ish Poet­ry, 1960 – 2010.

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