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14th Anniversary Edition, Live Encounters Poetry & Writing Volume Five Nov-Dec 2023.
Beyond, poems by Karen Greenbaum-Maya.
I absorbed the stories of the grief group.
A woman whose husband hadn’t told her he had cancer.
A man whose wife drank herself into death.
A woman whose daughter had just gotten sober.
I told the group how I discovered
a pile of my husband’s shoes,
how I wept over those shoes,
all shaped like his poor feet.
Then they all remembered
how they too had grieved
over the worn shoes.
They all talked about signs sent
from the departed ones.
So much emphatic nodding,
such understanding hearts.
I confessed I’d never felt
such a sign, from beyond.
They were certain I must be shutting it out,
insisting too scientific, too rational.
How they erupted,
outraged and self-satisfied
as a flock of chickens. They affirmed
how important these signs were
for them, for their grieving.
Tell me your signs, I begged,
let me hope for unseen guardians,
for enduring love.
Late afternoon in early spring,
the southern light fell in stripes
through the blinds at the senior center.
In silence, in accord with its nature,
the sun headed north.
One by one, they admitted:
not one had ever received a sign
How hard they believed.
Each prof in the German department was another country. Switzerland
was blind in one eye, hypnotized us fiddling with his pipe, said he was
waiting for us to begin. Gave no As, ever. Wore turtlenecks to stay warm.
Nazi Germany had thick honey-blond hair and crystal eyes, was flat-bellied
enough to look good in turtlenecks. Still authoritarian: a Marxist who
lived well on inherited wealth, as full of aspiration as Wagner, and as much
veneer. Post-war Germany, doctoral student at the university down the
road, almost American, born just soon enough to know postwar famine,
not American enough to lose his horror at the stinginess of skim milk.
Wore turtlenecks so he wouldn’t have to iron shirts and wear ties. And
East Germany, the escape artist. who made it out to the West only on his
third try. The Stasi told him they’d kill him if they caught him again. He
headed to the Antipodes, to Korea, where he taught English and met his
wife. Preferred wash-and-wear shirts. Escaped the college after precisely
twenty-five years, just enough to achieve a pension. Gave dazzling lectures
whose substance vanished the next hour, Like that joke about German
-Chinese food: an hour later, you’re hungry for power. Whatever insight I
offered him was naïve, American. He always knew better than anything I
offered. And I was the American abroad, worshiping Art, trying to escape
who I was, my skin too sensitive ever to tolerate a turtleneck.
© 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. Her work has appeared in journals including Comstock Poetry Review, B O D Y, Rappahannock Poetry Review, CHEST, and Spillway. Her collections include three chapbooks, Burrowing Song, Eggs Satori, and, Kafka’s Cat (Kattywompus Press), and, The Book of Knots and their Untying (Kelsay Books). A collection of poems about her late husband’s illness and death from lung cancer in 2018, The Beautiful Leaves, was published in August 2023 by Bamboo Dart Press, and is also available through Amazon. She co-curates Fourth Saturdays, a poetry series in Claremont, California, as well as Garden of Verses, an annual day-long reading of nature poems in Claremont’s California Botanic Garden.