Sunday, November 26, 2023

My third Pushcart nomination! And then

Walter watches the ducks

Walter and Betty collaborate

Walter in winter

Thank you thank you to Dale Wisely, F. John Sharp, Annie Stenzel, Bill McCloud, Steve Klepetar, Ina Roy-Faderman, and F. J. Bergmann for nominating my poem "And then" for the 2023 Pushcart awards. Right Hand Pointing is champion of the small but mighty and I am always honored to appear there. But this is much more. My other two Pushcart nominations I could rationalize away:  it was a new journal; I had done the editor a kindness, blah blah. This one has no such handle. And, really, this is a double endorsement: the same group nominated the poem also for Best of the Net.

And we are on the verge of the five-year anniversary of his death. I am on the verge of the five-year anniversary of his death. I will never be done grieving, just as I will never be done loving him, but I am moving through grief, and continuing to live.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

We Gather Together

Some years back, Ruth Reichl ran a column about someone who analyzed family dynamics from the contents of the Thanksgiving table. It was a provocative piece, and it got me asking a question that I now ask, in a different spirit, as I make the rounds this time of year: What has to be on the table for it to feel like Thanksgiving to you?

The process has been quietly hilarious. Most start by essentially denying that there is anything special in their mouths or hearts: "Just the regular things." Regular to you, maybe. Or a reversion to the more-or-less cheerful assumption of childhood that what is familiar is how all the world must be.  Everyone names the bird, but almost no one lights up at its mention. “Oh, turkey, of course,” said A, with a self-deprecating giggle. She ended up admitting that for her it's ham, smoked ham, that she has had as long as she can remember, from her mother's table on to her own, and that the turkey might as well be a center-piece. B, who lives by the juicer and makes her own turkey-breast sausages so that they will be safely fat-free, spontaneously recites recipes from her Pennsylvania-Dutch childhood, all of which seem to start with a cup of melted butter and to finish with an inch of sour cream. Her eyes gleam.

The taste of some childhoods: green bean casserole, made entirely from processed foods, canned fried onion rings and frozen green beans and cream of mushroom soup, so much a part of some traditions that the recipe stands on the onion ring can. Its memory brought tears to the eyes, for a variety of reasons. I recently saw a recipe I can only think of as cruel, recreating this dish with fresh and scratch ingredients, including shitake mushrooms. What's the point? It won't taste like childhood, disappointing the Cs, and D who spent two-plus hours slivering fresh green beans and whisking b├ęchamel will feel, accurately, unappreciated. I think this taste-of-childhood issue is the root of the two religions apparent at Thanksgiving: E reveres the marshmallow, F holds it to be an abomination. "Yams, with marshmallows of course. The little ones." "Yams, the way I make them, without marshmallows."  Do mixed marriages take turns, double up, or mix the sacred with the profane and go half-and-half with a DMZ?

In G's tradition, it's tamales, the only time of year that her father takes serious action in the kitchen. As many as can be found gather the weekend before, mix the masa, prepare the remembered fillings and make up some new ones. H always promises to bring me a sampling, but there are never any left, just descriptions. J waxed ecstatic about dinner rolls and stuffing and yams and corn and mashed potatoes.  Any particular kinds? “Nah, out of the box or the can or the freezer is fine, just so they are all there all at once.” “Mashed potatoes,” said K shyly, “real ones.” Real to her means smooth and soft. “Real mashed potatoes,” said her husband, agreeing with her emphatically, “but real means lumpy, and stiff enough to make ponds for gravy. If they're lumpy, you know they're real.”

L has tried many paths to holding a kinder gentler Thanksgiving. One year everyone offered to bring the touchstone dishes, and she took them up on it. The trouble was that it was then no one's Thanksgiving: the special dishes weren't the way she liked them, and L found herself trying to accommodate everyone else's notions of what ought to be there. For instance, a daughter swore that her new husband's family always had three kinds of Jello molds, that it was generations of tradition and critically important to them. L wanted all the families to feel welcomed. So, she took up scarce time and scarcer refrigerator space and duly produced the Jello molds. Came time to clean up and there they were, each one with only a spoonful or two removed. Slow burn.  Some years people would brightly bring pies, but "tricked-out pies, pumpkin with molasses or pecan with chocolate, and they tasted just plain wrong." Now a daughter-in-law brings plain pies from Costco.  They do not thrill, but neither do they offend. One year L decided to do a completely different Thanksgiving, and changed everything. She ended up with a sort of Italo-French-Chinese Thanksgiving, which sounds intriguingly post-modern until you think about how and where the whole feast began. Never mind the culture wars: it was better in theory than it tasted in practice.

M admitted that her husband is the cook, year-round, and that his rule becomes yet more imperious at this time of year. (I recognize that.) This year, she wanted to have green beans.  “No,” he said, “it's gotta be peas.” “But—“ she said.  “NO,” he said, showing some strain, “it must be peas or it is not Thanksgiving.” Did he command the entire meal? “No no NO,” she said, eyes flashing; she always made the dressing. It started with her mother's recipe that included several kinds of nuts and seeds and herbs, and that was only where it, and she, started.

And how about my table? For me, it seems to be recipes that take time, advance prep, and at least two stages of pre-cooking. Spiced cranberry sauce whose spices are whole and start with steeping in a sugar syrup, and that must ripen for a week. Dressing with at least ten ingredients of which two themselves require what amounts to a recipe. Yams that are parboiled, then bake very, very slowly in fresh-squeezed—not negotiable—orange juice. Various guests asked one year about various dishes, but when someone asked about the turkey, one friend sighed, "Probably parboiled and then roasted in cream." Actually, that turns out to be rather how I feel by the time we sit down: wilted, seasoned, opulent, a bit crusty. As a family member used to say when she was a competitive cyclist, "Stick a fork in me, 'cause I'm done."

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Best of the Net Nomination, 2023: And then

 WWalter, Karen, and Julie chez Christine and Anand, 2010

Thank you Dale Wisely and other editors of Right Hand Pointing for nominating my poem And then for Best of the Net 2023. I am honored. This poem also appears in The Beautiful Leaves.

And then

     How empty his body became

once he’d left it,

his jaw hanging slack, then slacker,

his face emptying, dissolving

into mere parts. Empty of him,

no longer his face. Still his hands.

     I still expected him

to pull away 

from my tugging fingers

when I tied up a bundle of his silver hair 

with a length of thread, 

binding a sheaf

before I cut it off.

right hand pointing/ambidextrous bloodhound productions | Facebook

Friday, September 22, 2023

Poetry In the Marketplace--Literally


Fresh herbs are where it's at in the open air market

Chinese or Asian eggplants in the farmers market



Thin blondes and their teacup Yorkies yap

next to the baby beets, the bunches of purple basil.

A wannabe-Dylan’s harmonica whines,

but these organic buyers don’t look back.

By the heirloom potatoes, fitful typing chatters

as the Unheard Poet taps out a poem,

free, for anyone who asks, plus a bill or two for Art.

He is taking the Basho challenge on his dusty portable Olivetti.

Hipster skulls twitch on his brown suede sneakers,

and he works his toes as he hunts and pecks his way.

Behind him, a puddle holds a scrap of lettuce

            floating in its mirrored milky sky. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Rowdy Seniors Close Down Poetry Reading, Get Booted from Bookstore

Signing copies of TBL for Stephanie and for Sherry

McKenna DeLucca, much-tried bookstore manager, and Mark Givens, my esteemed publisher

 Last Saturday, September 9 2023, I threw a book launch party for The Beautiful Leaves at the Claremont Forum's Prison Project Bookstore. The Prison Project sells donated books to fund prisoners' requests for books. (The most requested book? Dictionaries.) It was a great afternoon. Official start time was 2:00, but we kicked off at 2:20 to give people a bit of time to gather and to buy books. Mark Givens, my publisher at Bamboo Dart Press, introduced me warmly (and told me privately that he thought this was a really good collection, and that it gave him ideas for expanding the purview of his press). 

I read five poems. I selected them on the fly, so I could gauge my audience’s response. I found myself avoiding the poems I wrote closest to his death—not really for read-aloud. Nancy Murphy commented that my poems sounded conversational. It’s true that I strive to write the way I talk, which is sometimes conversational, sometimes more elevated and holding forth. Left over from having taught pre-docs, I suppose. It’s also true that I am a fairly experienced reader, so choose poems that read more conversationally. The more intricate poems work better on the page, and that’s where I leave them. It is also true that it takes a lot of craft to sound artless.

Partly because of my age, most of my friends are seniors. The rest comprised friends from all parts of my life:  high school, acupuncturist, voice teacher, psychologists, poetry people, people affiliated with the Cal Poly Chemistry Department whom I met through Walter, friends who are simply friends. People drifted, congregated, saw old friends, talked with new people, milled around. Then the manager received a call—three calls—from Claremont Forum board members. They were ‘concerned’ about people blocking the aisles. It was at this point that I noticed a camera surveying the bookstore. Apparently board members can monitor the feed. The manager apologetically asked me if I could ask my guests to leave those spaces clear, in case some emergency arose and the place had to be evacuated. I thought to myself that the board apparently hadn’t minded people in the aisles before my event started, when the bookstore was so full of people milling around in the center space that I had trouble entering. But anyhow. My guests fitted themselves into a bay, rather the way you arrange yourself in an elevator, talked and sampled refreshments, ventured out of their improvised compound to buy the bookstore’s books. Then the much leaned-upon manager told me that the board was insisting she stop the reading, or else close the bookstore. I read another set, a little grimmer this time. My daughter and friends packed up the refreshments while I chatted with folks and signed some more books. We were out by 4:00 instead of 5:00.

How often do you get to say, “Dude! Raging seniors kicked out for partying too hard! Whoot!” Walter would have been proud.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Beautiful Leaves, the book arrives


You’ve been hearing me talk about this collection for a few years, and now it is about to see light of day. The Beautiful Leaves , the collection of my poems about my beloved last husband Walter, will be published on August 8 by Pelekinesis Press (specifically, the Bamboo Dart division). Usually, I feel somewhat constrained about promoting my collections, but not this time. I feel that I am honoring Walter as he deserves. I feel also that my particular take on death and dying is not one you commonly encounter, and that my approach might strike a chord with other bereaved folk.

If you would like me to sign a copy and send it to you, please send $12 ($9 for the book, $3 for packaging and mailing, to my PayPal account, Be sure to include your address in the notes. If you prefer Zelle, send me an email to the above address, or leave a comment, and I’ll send you the account number. Venmo also works:  @karen-greenbaum-maya. Of course, if we will see each other soon, or if you are planning on attending my book launch, or any of my readings, then just the $9.

I am so happy to have this collection come out. Walter loved the poems I wrote before his death, and I am glad to leave testimony about him.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

AHA: a blast from the past, so to speak.


A very striking (no pun intended) virtual installation. You had to download the app, then sign in and view this creation through your phone. Naturally, the other people on the pier have no idea what you're seeing--and the phone just adds them into the scene

There is a little game in this prose poem. No one has noticed it yet. Perhaps you will.

Aha:  Atomic Apron

Hidden in the fold of the hem are the secrets of the atomic bomb, the equations and transitions that won the war. A white cotton apron, trimmed with satin-stitched wild roses. How can it have gone through the war and still be so pure? And the cloth, gauzy, open-weave, nothing but a net of threads. How did the secrets not leak through? Always the question no one asks out loud: Did that really happen? He’s the one who knows. Archbishop of physicists, eighty years ago they say, he inscribed the breakthrough on the cloth, then stitched it up tight. He is now so famous that credit, blame, renown no longer concern him. All respect is temporary. He knows this, as surely as he knows everything atomic reverts, sooner or later, to hydrogen. Ad infinitum, he will remember the moment when he understood: My God, he’d said, ja mei, mais non, aha.