Jessica Greenbaum

As So Often Happens | Twenty-two Years Later
November 26, 2017 Greenbaum Jessica

As So Often Happens


As so often happens, in the middle
of the outdoor concert it started to pour.
It was like a sky-wide water balloon was sliced open
and rain fell as if all at once, every second.
We were there with friends—kind-of friends—
and their good friends, and we ran to the nearby apartment
of their good friends, and by the time we arrived
we were as soaked as if fallen in a pool
and they lent us their sweat pants and sweatshirts
they made cocoa, set up their oft-used Scrabble board
and suddenly we are in their house
and wearing their clothes and playing a game
for very quiet nights or family. It was going
pretty well, I mean how we were all getting along
although we had young children and
they didn’t—weren’t going to—
and that can be awkward all around, and then
Jed and I had some triple word score
with the word quiz crossed with another
bosomy word using j or x
and we vaulted over everyone’s tally
with 103 points. Our hosts pretended not to be mad
and we left with thank yous and hugs
but when I would see them in the weeks
that followed, at the co-op or on the street—
the people whose clothes we wore
and in whose house we took shelter—
my Hello! was stopped by a flat
blank look—like when you tap an acquaintance
on the shoulder but it’s not them. Over time
I realized it was good practice—
to go through an intimate experience
and pay no attention to it—because our paths
cross with who knows who the skies open up
and we wear their clothes and sit at their table
and as it works out the cleverness
not to connect proves important, and
the lack of obligation proves as invaluable
as a happenstance bond—
but how would I know that, being a woman?



Twenty-two Years Later


I was talking to our close friend
also a pilot and asked him did we
ever find out exactly how, and
having inspected the wreckage
he said you just made a mistake
that maybe you hadn’t gotten much
sleep the night before and in the
long pre-dawn dark you hadn’t
climbed to the right altitude so
when the earth came up before
the plane and here he illustrated
with his hands one hand as the plane
gliding forward one as the terrain
gradually rising up in a wall his
fingertips lightly touching his palm
like a gentle sign for time out
and you didn’t see it, that’s how:
instantly. I felt a massive subtraction
from my personal mountain of
sorrow because for all these years
I imagined you flying terribly high
when suddenly you couldn’t see
through the Arctic dark which
way was up I even pictured your
to-go cup spilling your twisted
expression as the plane started free
falling and you kept trying to
right it and worst there was a then when
you knew you couldn’t and that
moment has been the absolute seat
the capital of my grief because
you were alone with the mail
for the Inuit villages still un-
delivered and now I think, Well,
this will be the strangest, very
strangest good news of both our lives.


(Daniel Housberg, 1957 – 1993)

Jessica Greenbaum is the author of three volumes of poems, a co-editor of the first ever poetry Haggadah, and also of  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.