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.
The Beautiful Leaves by Karen Greenbaum-Maya is available now.
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
Pliny and Other Problems starts with the problems of ordinary life – a mother’s midlife crisis – and the doings (and undoings) of aging and loss. In the central poems, Pliny the Elder’s life and tome, Natural History, is playfully explored. Pliny mixes Roman mythology with observations of nature, and these poems build little narratives with his bizarre imagery. Nature is instructive and absurd, and the last section, “Supplications,” contemplate the ways it demands our attention and awe. Though life in late-stage capitalism, aka the Anthropocene, is uncertain at best, and catastrophic at worst, it doesn’t mean one cannot find some joy.
Pliny and Other Problems by Emily Fernandez is available now.
Like messages in bottles washed ashore, the poems in Emily Fernandez’s Pliny and Other Problems feel miraculous. They movingly catalog moments of the speaker’s life as well as the forms of life on the edge of California—mixing vignettes from adolescence and young love to marriage and motherhood, and celebrating the natural world in the midst of the pandemic and climate change. Balancing dark humor with hope, profanity with praise, this collection is “teaching us the surprise / of survival.” I feel restored at the end of this book, and brought closer to the wonder of being human right now.
—Michelle Brittan Rosado, author of Why Can’t It be Tenderness
In her poetry chapbook, Pliny and Other Problems, Emily Fernandez takes an honest look at the multi-headed beast that is life as an adult in an increasingly uncertain world. Sometimes with humor (“A Serious Case of Jazz Hands”), and sometimes with a chilling honesty (“…extinction has it out for even the coolest of us”), her poetry is equal parts lyrical, beautifully descriptive, and brutally honest about the world we share.
—Tim Hatch, author of Wild Embrace
In Pliny and Other Problems, Emily Fernandez conspires with the natural world to uncover earth’s mysteries and postpone the apocalypse. Whether buried in the backyard or beneath glacial ice, like a Michelangelo of words Fernandez cuts away the chaff. No, Pliny, salamanders cannot put out fire, nor does a naked menstruating woman have preternatural curative powers. But these false narratives can be deconstructed, rebuilt. Yes, we are mortal, but before that, we are alive—and these poems thrum with possibility. If one is to drown, better it to be by one’s own hand and not forced by another’s. And yet, these poems, in every way, feel like love.
—Cati Porter, author of small mammals and Novel
Fernandez’s gorgeous poetry was made for this time. She explores the often treacherous edges of motherhood and womanhood, offering grace and humor. She also resists apocalypses, both ancient and current, real and imagined. As such, her insistence on hope and tender compassion is a balm to the weary twenty-first century soul.
—E. Katherine Kottaras, author of How to Be Brave and A Rainbow Inside My Body
The poems in Emily Fernandez’s Pliny and Other Problems intrigue and delight, touching on love, loss, and nature to domesticity, family, and the impact of the pandemic. Her work is highly literary, yet also deeply personal and approachable. It’s rooted in place, painting a landscape of Californian life, and displays a light, deft touch, a keen wit, and an unsentimental, yet affectionate, eye. In every poem, her intellect and voice breaks through, plunging her words deep into our hearts and minds. Her words will stay with you, the images lingering for days. This collection is a beautiful, soul sustaining, deeply spiritual piece of literary prowess that transcends and transports us to a place where only she can take us.
—Juanita E. Mantz, author of Tales of an Inland Empire Girl and Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender or how I became a punk rock lawyer
Emily Fernandez’s latest collection of undeniably California poems in Pliny and Other Problems magically merge the inner and outer worlds we inhabit through resplendent imagery teeming with the beauty of nature and its attendant chaos. As an Angeleno, mother, teacher, writer, and human gravely concerned about the planet, I found myself drawn personally to each poem in this collection and wholly grateful that I was invited into this garden of existential delights where hope and wonder—as tenuous as they may be sometimes—still abound. These incisive poems provide an unflinching examination of everything from motherhood to death to climate change to romantic love to politics to feminism while giving us a regenerative framework with which to view it all. We should all be so enamored with the beauty of our world to tend to it –and to language—the way Fernandez does.
—Simona Supekar, author of forthcoming book Stock Photo