This Next Tenderness, Ellen Steinbaum 2018
This is the fourth volume of poetry by Ellen Steinbaum, a friend and Boston neighbor, and it’s a beautiful collection. Using a variety of forms from the pantoum to the prose poem, she takes the reader through aging in a gentle and caring manner. Verbs for the inevitable process abound—unraveling, faltering, undoing, winding down, crumbling, damaging, and finally, the “drawn out farewell”—-but the poems are life affirming rather than depressing. The fun wordplay in title and in the poems themselves is a welcome diversion and very well done, and her new take on many common observations is delightful, as when she calls her aging skin the ‘slight human covering.’ My favorite poem may be the one about the transition from responsible parent to the object of worry and care for one’s own children as in the poem “It Starts like tenderness”:
the helping hand cupping the elbow/that we shake off as if we didn’t notice,’as if we felt no sting.
The children—adult now, middle-aged–/take bundles from our hands,/solicitous in unburdening, and—-/like us/calibrating, sounding for decay.
Before their visits we clear the house/of the crimes of expired cereal, aspirin;/cut back the looming shrubs/that shroud the houses of the old.
In restaurants we watch/the slow, unsteady passage/to nearby tables, measure ourselves/against the faltering before us.
That final line is just about perfect!