“Tonight, the Dead” by Judy Kronenfeld

Tonight, the Dead

whose names are water
in water, howl at my door
like locked-out dogs,
asking for love, love,
endless gratitude, inviolate memory,
justice, what they deserve,

though they are more forgettable
than packed away clothing too good
to throw out, unredeemed keys,
obligatory visits, kisses,
though their names
on the mausoleum’s drawers of ashes
are like labels on files assembled
so they can be forgotten—remaindered,
to the shredders.

And when I go to the door they stop
whimpering, suddenly as kids
whose mothers give in to their yowls
for dessert. They are coyly expectant,
camped out in my grave yard.

Aunt Edith sits splayed
on the ground, arranging
her hair, grass in her mouth.
“I’ve never worn it this long before,”
she says, her voice plump with smiles;
“You don’t remember, but I do,” she says,
“how your mother sprung closed the Murphy bed,
and you in it!”—she snuggles her squirrel hands
to her chest—“and I heard a little squeak, ‘Ee-ee,’
and I crept around calling out ‘Ee-ee’
is here. I saved you. ‘Ee-ee,’
you called, ‘Ee-ee.’ ”

A few rows back, unhurriedly,
my father’s oldest brother, Ben, crosses
his arms and plants one foot
on his expensive marble tombstone, as if
on a ’49 Packard’s running board.

His shroud falls open
at the chest, where golden chains
in graduated sizes encircle the bone.
He sees me. He turns his head.
He likes the silence of the dead. Now I
must come to him—“Beloved Eldest Brother
of T and P and M , whom he saved
from the Nazis, and staked when their idiocy
led them to bankruptcy; Beloved Uncle
of R and B and N (the conspicuous
absence of my name), who made no complaint
when he lifted their lips to look at their teeth,
knowing they wouldn’t be alive, etc. etc.”
And in gold letters, BENJAMIN.

And Manny and Mimm and Rmm and Mmm, thick as leaves,
waving and drowning at the far shores
of oblivion, while the unclosed stories
of their lives still play,
like drive-in movies
you glimpse from the freeway:
shadows you first think are
water, trees, as they slide and pour off—
though refracted from life,
so you glance back.
No cars in the hollow lot,
the speakers all hanging at their stations,
the mute screen flashing to no-one.

But I am listening, dead ones,
I am listening.

From light lowering in diminished sevenths: Poems by Judy Kronenfeld, 2nd edition, Winner of The Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize for 2007 (Simsbury, CT: Antrim House, 2012)

Judy Kronenfeld’s most recent books of poetry are Shimmer (WordTech , 2012) and the 2nd edition of Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, winner of the 2007 Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize, (Antrim House, 2012); her most recent chapbook is Ghost Nurseries (Finishing Line, 2005). Her poems have appeared in many print and online journals, including Calyx, Cimarron Review, Natural Bridge, Poetry International, Women’s Review of Books and the Pedestal, as well as in over a dozen anthologies including Love over 60: An Anthology of Women’s Poems (Mayapple Press, 2010), and Before There Is Nowhere to Stand: Palestine/Israel: Poets Respond to the Struggle (Lost Horse Press, 2012). She is Lecturer Emerita, Dept. of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside.

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