Judy Kronenfeld

As Matthew Rohrer commented in a brief essay (“Serious Art That’s Funny: Humor in Poetry,” on poets.org), “[s]ome people seem to think that writing humorous poetry is a terrible crime, like pissing on Plymouth Rock.” But humorous overtones—the wry, the ironic, the witty, the waggish, the droll—are part of so much wonderful poetry (think of Thomas Lux, Andrew Hudgins, Bob Hicok, to name just a few); they complicate and enrich the full-bodied draught of the poem. In my own poetry, when humor occurs, it may speak to the paradox that the horrific and the hilarious are sometimes bedfellows, that we really don’t know, sometimes, whether to laugh or to cry. I also love the way humor, with its power of distancing the self from the self—as part of the rich brew of a poem—may also disarm the reader, allowing the poem to descend in order to rise to the lyric and serious.                                                                                                                                                   ________________________________________________________________________________________________



Alzheimer's, Interrupted

"Shhu-- shhu-- shhu-- shhu," my father steadily repeats
as we sit on the patio. Is he keeping time
to his heartbeat? "Shhu-- shhu--
shhu-- shhu," chugging in
towards lunch, hanging on
to my visitor arm,
and it sounds like he's soft-shoeing
the "choo-choo, choo-choo" he used
years ago to bring the spoon
of Gerber's peas to the tunnel mouths
of his grandbabies. "And how are your
parents?" he says.
                                        "You are my parent,"
I respond, "my lovely papa parent." I squeeze
the arm on my arm.
                                         Slowly, he studies my face. "Shhu,"
he says, "Shhu," snapping his head,
and I'm wishing for "Holy smoke
and jigeroo!," Papa mio's self-surprised
syllables, when nothing was really
out of control. He twists
his head again, jerking
it towards the ground, like a dog
with a foxtail crawling an ear,
as if he could shake
confusion out. I almost expect him to hop
on one foot pulling hard
on the lobe, the way he taught me
to loosen sea water after a swim. But "Shhu!"
He lifts his chin. An unhinged social
grin-- as if he's merely failed to name
the current president.

                                         Then he leans toward the patio door,
to open it for         me, the visitor
(daughter? granddaughter?) "Shhu!,"
destabilizes, "Shhu!" "Shhu!," regains his balance
"Shhu!," pushes open the door "Shhu!" (now
it seems to mean Whew!), lowers himself
towards a food-splotched chair ("Shhu!"),
makes contact ("Shhu!"), sits down 
next to a resident with a scowl wound
tight as her permed grey curls (so old and wrinkled!
I hear him thinking, one of the crazies who never
says "Hello" or "How are YOU?"

Her face is in his face. "What's wrong with you?,"
she croaks. "Something wrong with your shoe? Shoe!

Dad rolls his eyes toward me, conspiratorially.
In a stage whisper, "Fun is fun," he shrugs her off--
his unaware awareness worth a kiss.


Originally published in The Louisville Review. Reprinted in Judy Kronenfeld, Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths (The Litchfield Review Press, 2008).



The Emperor and Empress of Ice Cream

If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

A student in a middle row, suddenly awake,
cackles; then he and his girl
both grimace visibly when I point out
“If her horny feet protrude” alludes
to yellow calluses, not the lustful
dead. These two just ooze
from bed into my class. He slides low
in his tiny chair-desk and stretches wide
his legs. Her sparkle-flecked
cleavage shimmering in her tank-top,
she flip-flops to his side.

I watch their sun-glow noses
wrinkle in disgust, as they imagine
Stevens’ cold, short-of-sheet
crone, with shiny hardenings bright
as light bulbs on her bunioned toes.
I tuck one horny sandaled foot behind the other,
beneath my desk.

The lustless dead are burgeoning
like flies; D.O.B. keeps creeping up
toward mine in the obituaries.
Somewhere I stopped
conjuring the lubricious dishes
the Emperor and Empress have most likely
licked from each other’s spoons, somewhere
started hoping the final undelicious
cold won’t laser through my brain
like an ice cream migraine, but slink in,
stealthily, in sleep. "Death . . . the mother
of beauty" . . . maybe . . . if Mom sews
the black backdrop for the garage
band of spotlit kids envisioning
an endless gig.

I flip the page of the anthology and picture
minutes flipping like the rolodex 
in my old clock-radio, days
ripped from the calendar.
The numbers tumble-- 2-0-4-3
and I’m gone (unless become some
salted centenarian sibyl),
2-0-8-0 pouf! they're gone, wedded
to me in the democracy of the dead.

But now they're here in their shine,
two heads of the many-headed hydra,

leaning in towards each other--giggles,
concupiscent purrs--though the class has advanced
to "a mind of winter" and "junipers
shagged with ice" (surprisingly, no snickers).

The lucent phrases briefly live,
flaring up,
then out, like sectors
on a circuit board,

as I sing on, before the drowsy
Emperor and Empress,
and all the lunch-sated assembled court--

still so far
from the still center
beyond the last thought, wanting
fire-fangled feathers,
sick with desire.


Originally published in Diner; reprinted in Judy Kronenfeld, Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths (The Litchfield Review Press, 2008).


Judy Kronenfeld is the author of two books and two chapbooks of poetry, the most recent being Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, winner of the 2007 Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize, which was published in Summer, 2008. Her poems, as well as the occasional short story and personal essay have appeared in numerous print and online journals. Recent and forthcoming poem credits include Natural Bridge, The American Poetry Journal, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Calyx, The Hiram Poetry Review, The Pedestal, The Cimarron Review, as well as a number of anthologies, including Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems and Poetics from California, edited by Christopher Buckley and Gary Young (Greenhouse Review Press/Alcatraz Editions, 2008) and Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease, edited by Holly Hughes (forthcoming from Kent State University Press). She is also the author of a critical study: KING LEAR and the Naked Truth (Duke U.P., 1998). She teaches in the Department of Creative Writing, at the University of California, Riverside.