Karen Greenbaum-Maya – First Responders Suite

Maya LE P&W June 2023

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing June 2023

First Responders Suite, poems by Karen Greenbaum-Maya. 

First Responders Suite


I tell 911 Look for the jacarandas.
to find our house, at the basin end of the cul-de-sac,
flanked by the lemon tree, the plum,
where all things come to rest.
Four thriving firemen overflowed our little bathroom
when he couldn’t hoist himself from the tub.
He and I, we’d tangled for an hour, tried
towels and grips and leverage,
realized at last we were both too weak.
Firefighters picked him up easy as I pick up a cat.
He was wet, leg muscles wasted.
They wrapped him gently in towels.


Three laid-back firemen parked
under the jacarandas, sauntered
past the lemon tree into the garage
to extract him from the car, passenger side.
He’d wedged himself into the passenger well
trying to stand up and grab his walker.
He’d forbidden me to buy a wheelchair.
He didn’t want to look old.

They told us to find wheels or else
go to the ER, that summer Saturday night.
How, how to roll him into the house?
Clever firemen, they propped him on a hand truck,
secured him close with bungee cords.
My pacifist husband, now turned parcel and patient,
slumped against his binding, turned
into Hannibal Lecter minus the muzzle.
They wheeled him like a water heater.


His heart trilled like a woodpecker
when I laid my ear to his chest. So fast
the blood can’t move. Then it clots. It stops.
Now he lacked the oxygen
to hold himself upright.

Six sturdy firemen plus a farm boy of a trainee.
And a gurney plus equipment. And paperwork.
I’d become prepared. I handed them
the printouts I kept ready:
the list of meds, the timeline
of diagnosis, surgery, recent treatments.
The IV, inserted quick and any old how,
to stop his heart to restart his heart.
That unspeakable event.
They exuded health
sweet and elusive
as lemon blossom, plum blossom.
The living room, big enough to receive them,
suddenly vacant. Sunlight
laying chambers on the carpet.
Trampled jacaranda blossom trailing
where they’d rushed him to the ambulance.

Album: Portrait with Panama hat

Ganders at the field’s edge guarded the goslings and fledglings,
honked once when we approached. See, they’ve all turned and fled.

Here we are standing deep inside the hawthorn bushes.
Proust had allergies, dared view flowers only through the window.

Our friend made a special detour to this village,
all streets paved with unself-conscious cobblestones.

That’s the village bakery renowned for the true macarons,
the best macarons, the ones worth the excursion.

She took us to this auberge whose resident dog
favored you with chin on thigh, true love from liquid brown eyes.

I remember air heavy with humid heat. The photo shows only
the warmth I found against your shoulder.

After that luncheon, we ambled through the town.
Here’s the local Gothic cathedral where we ended up.

That parabola of bullet holes in the limestone wall must have been
from métrailleurs, Resistance machine guns driving out Nazis.

Here. Let me show you.

© Karen Greenbaum-Maya 

Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a retired clinical psychologist, former German major and restaurant reviewer, and, two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. Poems have appeared in CHEST,  B O D Y, Spillway, Comstock Review, and, Rappahannock Poetry Review. Kattywompus Press publishes her three chapbooks, Burrowing Song (2013), Eggs Satori (2014), and, Kafka’s Cat (2019). Kelsay Books publishes The Book of Knots and their Untying (2016). She shared her life with her late husband for 34 years, which were not enough. The Beautiful Leaves, a collection of poetry about his illness, death, and her grief, is forthcoming in August 2023. She co-curates Fourth Saturdays, a poetry series in Claremont, California.

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