Judith Steinbergh

Julian’s Joy
at 14 months

Almost walking, pushing
his Playskool walker along
the Cambridge bikeway,
a boy, so little, hunched forward,
feet splayed outward for balance,
presses onward while trying
to keep up with himself, stepping
and stopping along asphalt,
eyes lowered to gold leaves
and apple stems, stones,
grit and sand; for each
a crouch, a  touch,  a delicate
pinch, oh taste and see!
Wide blue eyes then
up to the dipping pines,
to dancing maple. He sways
his hips to the warm winds,
laughsand, suddenly
shouting, Julian points
like David Ortiz at a grand slam,
only it’s sunlight he shouts at,
a glinting fence, a scruffy terrier,
the sound of hammering, a worker
high up on a roof, oh yes the pinnacle,
a man pounding nails into shingles, 
perched near a treetop in a blue
workshirt, oblivious to the tiny boy
who’s found blue, found heaven,
all he needs for today.

  © 2010      


Speaking of Heaven                                     

It’s heaven, I’d sighed driving my grandson home from pre-school, past the banks of forsythia,  the early blossoming cherries, past the maple tassels, birch catkins and greening willows.

A long silence from the back seat.

What actually is heaven?  Julian asked  from his car seat behind and to the right of me. I glimpsed in my rear view mirror.  He was in a thoughtful daze.

I was not thinking ahead when I’d blithely raised Heaven. Now a long pause while I considered my answer;  the images rose: the face of G-d, the idea of G-d, the omnipotent force, the One, Yhjh, Jesus gazing upward, the Saved rising into the heavens, the Dead writhing below. Where is the road, where is the gate, the touch of life, the judgment, Heaven,  Purgatory, Hell, the weight of  the Church, the Book, the bloodshed, the History of Art, the Sistine ceiling, Dante, and what about Angels?

Long long ago, I drawled postponing the premature dealing with G-d and Death,
people believed…..well some people believed….before they knew so much about planets and stars……that there was a world up there in the sky…..that looked like ours…..but mostly the lovely parts…..maybe it was always spring…..with gardens and flowing rivers and puffy clouds,  you can see it sometimes in paintings……what people used to……well some still do….believe.

I waited.

But you, hon, you know about our moon and the sun, the planets and the galaxies.

A long silence.

What about the screw in the ceiling of the car, Julian called in his throaty, tired voice, an old joke we had about turning my car ceiling screw with a worn penny and the possible outcomes, a mystery much much closer to home.

Conversing with a boy nearly four, but still three, who even when drowsy after a morning of art and science, playground and snacks, singing and reading, is still sieving words through his mind.  Every word, simple or abstract, that we just fling out thoughtlessly, drags its origins, its history of meaning with it in the presence of a child building language every day. Waves of words wash over him and some sink in. Some foam around the edges of the mind, and next time sift, settle into a fresh context, accrue meanings temporarily until  the word swirls by again and comes into focus.

© 2012


Eating Spring

At first I simply noticed
a dark swell at the tip of dogwood,
the reddish haze like a net over maple
whose  slim threads spun out
a spiders’ silk.  Soon

I reached for the tender
flowers of apple, the silver bullets
of beech, the slow elm buds
holding back, the dancing catkins
of birch and aspen.

I opened the maple blossom
and saw inside, the wings of the seed
pushing out – ready to broaden,
dangle and fly,

at dusk, I blessed
the closing of tulips, of dandelions
and in the soft May dark
the scent of magnolia made its own light.

Now my lips pout out,
my jaw narrows to a snout,
I feel my front teeth sharpen;
let me taste, just nibble
the maple bloom, maybe
the plum and cherry, the sour linden,
the stiff broom, the shiny
copper leaves of beech with a fruit-like
fuzz at their edge, tongue the crinkles
of the saw-toothed aspen.

This is how spring draws us closer,
easing us past our flesh into its fur and feathers,
beak and muzzle, how we give ourselves up
to the lost senses, biting
into the reborn season,  licking
our lips.

© 2004