Jessica Greenbaum

A Brief Portfolio
January 24, 2022 Greenbaum Jessica

At the End of My 63rd Year


I remembered one day when I was new to that part of the city
just wandering its small streets. It was snowing
which I had missed for the past seven years away
and I was walking with my beau, visiting from there. We were lost
in good and sad ways, and from behind the flakes we saw a shop
whose windows shone like fire through the grate of a woodstove—
it was a bookstore, Our Mutual Friend—
so we fell into it as you might a warm cabin in a winter woods
and if anyone reading this remembers that place
please get in touch because you may be the only force
between myth and memory. I was going to say how much
of that time of life has gone mythical—the journey to a strange land
the trials, the false friends and the true ones who unveiled
my powers (there all along!) our camaraderie outwitting challengers—
but is it any different than the present? I mean
how I will remember the present: this pre-dawn’s crescent moon
bottom heavy like a hanging sack of milk, the woodpecker
spiraling barber-pole style around the oak, and the sharp
autumn sunrise warmed inside by the actual orange fire through the grate
of the actual woodstove, which I open to add logs
so my family might have longer time warmed in sleep
because whatever is next and however it is spun
to reveal what I didn’t know back now, whatever the future will say
of the present’s trumpeting failures, whatever it will reveal
was hidden behind these trees and within these people
and how it might find me foolish from a whole geometry of angles
but especially for thinking I am more conscious at this age than at any other—
I want to note that this day—holding no major decisions or regrets
where almost everyone I love is still alive
where I’ve stumbled through weather into a life of great friendships
and love—was not made up, I’m in it now, I’m telling it true.



You and I


The day had been full of rain and that night we were restless.
We set out for a walk on the dirt road through the woods—I am the one
who needs a flashlight—and the trees were the opposite of restless
because they had been busy all day. They were like we had been
earlier that afternoon, inside and relaxed with a book. So we
began through their calm, no destination really except through time
and suddenly I heard a crashing wave of sound cascading toward us
and I froze as my ancestors must have taught me to do, while you
tried to continue along, tugging my hand, as is your way with
your ancestors, and also maybe because you are deaf in one ear
but the enormous sound rushed us again, as if a giant’s colossal palm
was sweeping the edge of the woods without regard to what grew—
the opposite of the birds’ silent fluidity between branches, their
enviable grace between dense crisscrossing—and registering this new
and sublimely terrifying phenomena in my 60th year I said, Let’s
turn back, we are not welcome here right now, let’s turn back! And you
who’s known for seeing through obstacles with x-ray determination
said we should continue along, and just then a wide bullet of a bird
flew straight at my forehead as if launched, and I ducked but you
pulled me up thinking I was being dramatic, and then I froze there
and it happened again, a missile of an owl, and I said, There must
be babies somewhere, and you said, No, it’s too late in the season
and I don’t remember if we continued after that; I must have groused
to myself about you not believing or defending me, and I was struck
by the notion of outsized clumsiness as a weapon! Ha ha! Who
would guess? Later, I heard you chuckling as you were reading in bed.
Yes . . . ? So you read me the passage about owls and how they
protect their young by divebombing suspected enemies. Then I laughed
too, and that is how we have moved along, in the rain, and after it.



Ode to a Colander


I’m sure you are tired of being asked
if you are related to the Chinese Checkers board
also punched with six-pointed stars
and I was going to say, but can you blame us
with so few other items with your design aside from the night sky
yet now at sunrise perhaps that lace pattern of oak leaves
allowing for the orange rays to come through
resembles you as well, and speaking of lace
maybe Rembrandt’s signature collars are colander-like
since he painted them not by drawing white lines on black
but by filling white in with black
leaving only the lace
as you leave only the berries or macaroni
and how you hold a hatful of potatoes as easily—
a sort of “allow me” when we need to rinse things off—
and now looking at the hummingbird feeder
whose red plastic flower blossoms hold yellow mesh discs
in their center for the beak to peek through to the nectar
and that is like you as well
and now I see the large squared laminated netting
around the deck of this raised house
so that children don’t fall through
and I begin to wonder what isn’t you
and if, in fact, you are holding us all up
a globe and Atlas combined
until we fall through calendar’s time
too fine for your powers.



The Raven Speaks

Genesis 8:6-7


I can’t tell you why my sheen, my size, and my wisdom weren’t prized
On the ark, or why I have to shout to be heard. Nor do I know why
I alone was allowed to procreate in that closed space
Where there wasn’t room for us to contract ourselves
For another generation. But the first way I was singled out
Was my mate had hatchlings, and no sooner had they pipped and peeped
Then I was dispatched on my own without a clear task or map.
I circled, looking over the unscripted waters
Imagining the world beneath, but there remained only the breathing
Skin of night below me, sometimes star-freckled as I called out
Over the waves. In that empty wilderness, during the length of those lonely
Dangerous days, I consoled myself by believing I must be performing
Some essential work; I considered that my carrion eating
Might have recommended me to make way for new life.
But I could not scout to the earth’s ends—
I had chicks and a mate, and I kept returning to the ark to check on them.
Even now I’m still hoarse from reminding Noach that in order
To begin the world again the world has to be safe for children.



Ode to the Stove


You have spent a long time practicing
non-violence, in your own way
although some damages cannot be helped
and you also have a daily mindfulness practice
around the intention of generosity
but it is natural to sometimes fail at such goals
and find yourself competing
with the sink, the counter, the refrigerator
for attention, recognizing your need
to be stood next to, leaned over, checked on
and in that understandable aspect of yourself
you gain the advantage
when some of those who have tended to you
grow old, their minds retiring
from daily responsibilities—that’s when
you alone, after years of nurturing
become the most dangerous one in the room
(the faucet’s drip cannot come close)
a threat for those whose attention skips
willy nilly from knobs, settings, present and
past. Now it is their children
who keep you in mind—
a worried thought that does not pass
like a cloud past a meditator’s window—
now your powers keep their attention
even from great distances
especially from there.

Jessica Greenbaum is the author of three volumes of poems, a co-editor of the first ever poetry Haggadah, and also of the forthcoming Tree Lines, an anthology of 21st century American poems. A recipient of awards from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Society of America, she teaches inside and outside academia including for communities who may have experienced trauma, and in synagogues around the relationship of Jewish text to contemporary poems. Her most recent book, Spilled and Gone, was recognized by The Boston Globe as a best book of the year, 2021.