"The Beautiful Leaves" by Karen Greenbaum-Maya

  • "The Beautiful Leaves" by Karen Greenbaum-Maya

"The Beautiful Leaves" by Karen Greenbaum-Maya consists of poems about the diagnosis, illness, and death of the author's beloved husband, and her grief.

Karen Greenbaum-Maya charts her husband’s decline and mortal illness and the new worlds it throws each of them into with unflinching honesty: “Tell how he left a voicemail accusing me of leaving him alone / in an airport parking garage. / Tell how I kept that voicemail, just so I could still hear his voice” (The Beautiful Story”). The Beautiful Leaves is also heartbreaking in its visceral longing to undo reality, to turn “a fit of coughing” that “jerk[s] his diaphragm / almost to a retch” into an opportunity to “turn his lungs inside out, / to let us pluck out / tumors, clean as mushrooms, pluck them out at the last” (“Pines in the Wind”). Greenbaum-Maya’s metaphors are admirably exact, tender, daring, or even cosmic, fleshing out the depth, expanse and loneliness of this pain. “Something looms behind you /You are overtaken / before you can even think /what was that” (“What to Say to Well-Meaning but Clueless People.”) “Why send bulletins when everyone is receding at light-speed / and nothing can arrive / nothing can escape... / My mouth moved / no sound got out” (“The Black Hole”). Whether in poems built on anaphora, or in tetrameter quatrains, a co-axial, or a cento, or in striking free verse, Greenbaum-Maya evinces her profound attention to inner and outer worlds throughout this moving and memorable collection.
—Judy Kronenfeld, author of Shimmer and Groaning and Singing
You should be warned, this book is going to make you cry. If you’re married, it’s going to make you want to hug your spouse closer. If you’re unmarried it will give you a new appreciation for being alive.
In “The Beautiful Leaves” Greenbaum-Maya explores what it means to love and to lose someone to a fatal disease. Putting her intelligent, curious and sometimes even humorous lens on the topic of mortality, she weaves a picture of modern-day life and death that includes comparisons to the statue of “La Pieta” in Rome, the passing of a black hole overhead, and even the experience of getting robocalls addressed to the departed. These poems lay bare the personal struggles of grief, but also reach for connections to the cosmic and historical, as when she notes of her husband’s diagnosis, “The black hole is in your lung / You’re still wracked by the slam/of that singular contraction /before the new universe started to expand.” These poems will help readers expand their scope and their appreciation for all a person can experience or accomplish while still alive, all the love they can share before they are gone.
—Tresha Faye Haefner, founder of The Poetry Salon, author of When the Moon Had Antlers
In her poetry chapbook, The Beautiful Leaves, Karen Greenbaum-Maya exquisitely, painfully touches on themes of loss, grief, and the utter despair of spending final days and hours with the most important person in your life as you run out the clock together. Each poem in this collection paints a picture of life immediately before, and after, the loss of her late husband, Walter. Greenbaum-Maya captures the frustration (anger?) we feel toward vacant platitudes from well-meaning friends (“Not a roller coaster / more like the Gravitron”); the minutiae we tend to notice only after spending hours awake as our loved one struggles to sleep (“hair, / Einstein-wild from hospital sweat,” and “feet swollen from that overworked heart, / giving out from all that giving out”); and she does so with honesty, grace, and (unexpected-but-welcome) occasional humor. Anyone who has weathered this kind of loss will recognize this lived experience of grief, and everyone will recognize the love and pain contained in each word.
—Tim Hatch, author of Wild Embrace

Karen Greenbaum-Maya

Karen Greenbaum-Maya worked as a clinical psychologist for 35 years. She earned her B.A. from Reed College in 1973 and her Ph.D. from the California School of Professional Psychology in 1982. She has managed a congressional campaign, has sung in a local opera company, and has developed cookie recipes for commercial use. She reviewed restaurants for the Claremont Courier for five years, sometimes in heroic couplets, sometimes imitating Hemingway. She shared her life with her late husband for 34 years, which were not enough.
She returned to poetry in 2008. Since then, her poems received Special Merit and Honorable Mention in the Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial contest from Marge Piercy and from B.F. Fairchild. Other poems have appeared in B O D Y, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Comstock Poetry Review, Heron Tree, Waccamaw, Spillway, Measure, and, Rappahannock Poetry Review. She co-curates Fourth Saturdays, a monthly poetry series in Claremont, California, and Garden of Verses, an annual day-long reading of nature poems in Claremont’s California Botanic Garden. Kattywompus Press publishes her three chapbooks, Burrowing Song (2013), Eggs Satori (2014), and Kafka’s Cat (2019). Kelsay Books publishes her full-length collection The Book of Knots and their Untying (2016).

Website: www.cloudslikemountains.blogspot.com

Facebook: @karen.greenbaummaya

Walter's Memorial Page: Walter Would Have Liked This, a memorial page

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Tags: diagnosis;illness;death;husband;grief