Jessica Greenbaum

In the Next Life and The Office of Apology
February 20, 2023 Greenbaum Jessica

In the Next Life


When I become the most trusted translator of your poems
Describing the world through the precincts of your language
I’ll walk the stretch of Grand Street as if reading your books
And you and I might confer through trans-Atlantic phone calls
To consider how your nautilus mind, your jackal mind, your kite-tail mind
And your bibliophilic self, bohemian self, and family-man self
Can thrive in the famished sublet of English—always a poet visiting
And always in residence. I imagine you writing at its kitchen table—
The carpet tread worn from there to the porch where the
Weeping, waving trees hold your dearest, most dreaded moments
And also the most ecstatic when wind’s wild fling with burning
Red leaves blankets your shoes. As if a visitor to a world
Capital, a caterpillar moves in rills along the sunflowers tilting
Toward the light cast from your library; anyone can see that.



The Office of Apology


Sometime after coffee, around four pm
I start on that day’s apologies.
I try not to get backlogged—no one
wants to be a newlywed again
with all those thank you notes to write. In bulk
sincerity sags and flags, and in order to feel
freshly, starkly abashed each day
and to keep from feeling
freshly, starkly abashed each day, I remember
that I have always offered apologies
hostess-like, as though ordained for it—
wrongly, though, in a switched-at-birth
sort of way. Be that as it may
having been mistakenly tagged a worker-bee
assigned to the Mistake Department
I unwillingly drill down on my identity
with the focus of Ahab in reverse
so that my place in the cosmos might be assured
and help neatly frame those more reserved
and considered, the quietly poised
and put-together. Here’s how it works:
I forgot our lunch date and left Dan waiting
in the restaurant…
until two bites left of his sandwich! Like a
social multi-car collision, next I was late
to a long-planned reunion during which
I sped-talked to be home for a Zoom
which opened with me panting. That was
today. It’s only worth saying because
I saw a clip on Youtube of Tony Bennett
and Amy Winehouse recording “Body and Soul”
at the Abbey Road Studio
and those minutes could serve as a demo video
of how kindness rights things, or tries to
because Bennett works so hard
to soothe the saddest genius
while trying to ameliorate her decade
of mistakes. She was 27
and died a few months later
and Bennett said he wished he’d had more time
to urge her to take better care of herself
and later mentions that Jack Rollins
who had been Lenny Bruce’s manager
said Bruce’s tragedy was that
he “sinned against his talent” and Bennett said
that single phrase had changed his own life long ago
and how he wished his world tour
hadn’t taken him away so he might have told her so
because he knew Amy Winehouse
was a “world class talent” who sang “right”
and for goodness sake, Prince
even offered her his plane to save her
from her life-sucking father and mate—
(a story playing out in Whitney Houston’s bio, likewise—)
and I’m not one to say
I never did anything wrong
but sometimes the wrong people are left
holding the regret, as if someone
in Circulation made a mistake, got promoted
and has yet to apologize.

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.