Fall 2020, Volume 29

Poetry by Judy Kronenfeld

On the Roof

The tar-like surface was warm and sticky,
as if it could be picked up and reshaped, and billowy
as the ocean on a mild day. When mother,
carrying the basket of wet laundry, and I, the bag
of clothes pins, emerged from the dim and narrow
stairs that led from the sixth floor
of our building to the roof, it took a moment
to get our sea legs. This was so long ago
there were few TV aerials, and mother wore
her tailored “street dress,” as if leaving
our cramped and stale apartment
to go up and out was equivalent
to going “downstairs.” I was still too small
to reach the clothesline, but I could hand her
the worn-smooth wooden clothes pins
that looked like armless men with tiny featureless
round heads. She fought the weight
of wrung-out sheets and flopped them on the line,
where gradually she stretched them out
until they flapped like sails, white and brilliant
in the windy sun, all at once trying to fly
and staying in place.

From that roof all city dwellers’ unseen presences,
en masse, felt palpable to the far horizon.
The sky—washed and rinsed
with light, hung with thin drifts
of stratus—was enormous as the prairie’s.

I think of other roofs I’ve seen
since then: the terrace roofs filled
with tanners’ dye pits—indigo, poppy,
saffron—in Marrakesh, roof patios
in Damascus, on whose parapets
mint and oregano grew in small pots,
even the roofs of Cairo high-rises
where squatters sheltered in fragile lean-tos
shaded by fronds. And how all of us citizens
could breathe a little better
in the higher, freer air,
and—perhaps more than the magnates
of my native city, surveying their infinity
pools and glamorous views
through penthouse windows—could feel the kinship
of existing under the immense
and common sky.




BIO: Judy Kronenfeld’s most recent collections of poetry are Bird Flying through the Banquet (FutureCycle, 2017), Shimmer (WordTech, 2012), and Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, 2nd edition (Antrim House, 2012)—winner of the 2007 Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, DMQ Review, Ghost Town, New Ohio Review, One (Jacar Press), Rattle, South Florida Poetry Journal, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and other journals, and in more than two dozen  anthologies. Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Under the Sun, and Hippocampus, among other places, and her more occasional short fiction in The Madison Review,  Literary Mama, Loch Raven Review, and other magazines.  She is Lecturer Emerita, Department of Creative Writing, UC Riverside, and an Associate Editor of Poemeleon.