Judy Katz

The Other Hemisphere & Like California
January 17, 2021 Katz Judy

The Other Hemisphere 


It shut us up, the new, dumbed us
into silence.  And when we finally
spoke from the back seat


of the cab, our eyes glazed
with jetlag, we said, Those arid hills,
don’t they remind you


of New Mexico?
And the bougainvillea – it’s just like
L.A.   Later, strolling the streets


of Santiago, one of us remarked,
This neighborhood could be
in Tel Aviv.  It drove them crazy,


our kids, this instinct of ours
to reach for the familiar – as if
there were only one door in


to our middle aged brains.  As if
our need to yolk what was new
to what we already knew


would rob this new place
of its singular
allure.  After all, Chile


had been Chile to our daughter
for six months now,
and to the Chileans, forever.


We tried to temper
our comments, held our tongues
except to marvel


at the tin-roofed houses
that tumbled toward the bay
in Valparaiso.  We walked


our daughter’s daily route to town,
watched her select a fish
in the market, take it


from Josephina’s salt-withered
hands, and ask in Spanish
the best way to cook it.


Five days later, when we drove
to the Lake District, we began
to settle in.  We breathed


the clean air of Pucon.  Hiked
mossy forests and parched,
volcanic hillsides.  I couldn’t get over


how capacious this skinny
country was!  Out the window
to the west, a view


of what could have been
Switzerland – green meadows, cows –
To the east,


a single snow-capped peak
posing as Mt. Fuji.
I didn’t dare say it aloud.


I know they want everything
to be the first, the only—
and it is.  Everything is the only


of its kind.  But also,
after decades of living and seeing,
you discover there are only


so many faces or types
of faces on earth.  I have seen
my own mother (long dead)


in the feria –
the Argentine version of her,
what she’d look like


if she had lived her life there.
And this, too, is a singular experience.
Have patience with us, Chile.


If you’ll just be California
or Switzerland for another
few days, I promise


we’ll let you be Chile.
Then we’ll carry you with us
everywhere we go.




Like California


I’m sitting in the guest room in Connecticut, the place I feel most at home.
I’m in the big chair with the ottoman, my back to the windows
which are open and letting in bird sounds.  Today’s my mother’s birthday.
She would have been 80, but I can’t imagine her older than 53.
I like the neatness of this room – the made bed, scant furnishings.
Its emptiness is what makes me feel at home.  As if the outer order calls to
some inner order and allows my true self to roam around with ease,
flowing back and forth, inside and out.  Like California, where you move
from the garden to the house and back again, no big deal.  Or like my mother
moving back into my consciousness today because the door’s open
and because it’s her birthday and I’m alone so she can visit.

Judy Katz‘s poems have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Women’s Review of Books, Salamander, Bellevue Literary Review, upstreet and other online and print journals. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been included in a number of anthologies, including Plume Anthologies 6 & 7.