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My father always set the alarm

ten minutes early—4:50 instead of

5:00 A.M.—so he could fall back

into a gauzy sleep on the hide-a-bed

in the living room. Perhaps he was gentling

himself, showing himself a deliberate

kindness, by adding a step

between oblivion and the icy jolt

of another exhausting day. Perhaps his sleep

was made that much more delicious

because he was almost conscious of it,                    

almost enjoyed the sensation of sleeping

while sleeping, thought ah, ten…nine…eight…seven

more long minutes (as I did, following his lead

on interminable high school mornings), before,

rank with sleep sweat, he sat

a few seconds in striped boxers

and ribbed undershirt, then hauled

himself up to shower in our tiny

bathroom, humid with laundry,

and get dressed for work. 

 

It’s terrifying how far back

this memory goes. I feel as if

I’ve had to lie on my belly

with a head lamp and inch forward

in the dark to see it. And now I grab hold

of it, as if he could have ten minutes

again, and I could grant them because

I remember how he treasured them:

ten minutes good as pre-dinner cupcakes for a kid

who’s been bullied at school when at last

at home; ten more minutes

of breathing, for me to see him,

nine, eight, seven, six—as if

ten minutes would sweeten arm-twisting

death, or gentle us into braving his.

 


Judy Kronenfeld is the author of three books and two chapbooks of poetry. Her third book of poetry, Shimmer, was published by WordTech Editions in January, 2012. Her most recent prior full collection is Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, winner of the 2007 Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize, now available in a second edition from Antrim House (2012); her most recent chapbook is Ghost Nurseries (Finishing Line, 2005). Her poems, as well as the occasional short story, personal essay and review have appeared in many print and online journals (Calyx, Cimarron Review, The American Poetry Journal, Natural Bridge, Hiram Poetry Review, Poetry International, Spoon River Poetry Review, Women’s Review of Books, Pedestal) as well as in over a dozen anthologies including Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease (Kent State University Press, 2009), 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). Judy is Lecturer Emerita, Dept. of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside.



This is one of those poems that was released by another poet’s poem—a poem by Lana Hechtman Ayers, which I heard her read during her interview on a program called The Poet’s Café, hosted by Lois P. Jones on KPFK Los Angeles. When I am between poems, I can be in a kind of no-man’s land. I need to get back into the place where I know again that truth about human experience combined with the craft that makes it sing is what poetry is all about. It was, somewhat subliminally, Hechtman’s poem (which I now know is a prose poem) about her mother’s blackened toe that released me this time. I loved the focus of the poem, how it used the toe that the doctor said “must go” to unfold the stalwart character of the mother, shattered, finally, by the betrayal of the body--all her self-control and bravery in even more difficult prior experiences of bodily and human loss giving way in a flood. When I went back to my notebook, a detail I had there about my long-gone father’s habit of setting his alarm early, felt explorable, almost numinous. Ayers' poem gave me a kind of confidence to go forward with that exploration, to fully give myself to re-coaxing this memory, and then to experience and write about what the very process of re-claiming the past does to one’s emotions. All-in-all, a more-or-less “gift” poem, with relatively few emendations.  “Arm-twisting death” came, almost logically, after the treat and the bullying and the sweetening were already in the poem, and I was really delighted with it. 

 


 




  


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