Janet R. Kirchheimer

Climbing the Ladder


Who opens a negotiation with, “I will work
for your younger daughter Rachel for seven years.” 
Offer to work for a year, maybe two,
then settle on three or four. 
After seven years of labor, what does Jacob get? 
Leah, the older sister. 
Their father, Laban, tells him, “It is not the practice
in our place to marry off the younger before the older.” 
Says he’ll give him Rachel if he serves another seven years.
What choice does Jacob have? 

Take a look at Joseph. 
He interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and tells him
a great famine is coming, tells Pharaoh he needs
someone to run the country. 
So Pharaoh appoints him viceroy. 
Now there’s a man who knows how to get ahead.
He even gets a wife for free, doesn’t have to work a stitch for her. 
Of course, his descendants end up as slaves in Egypt
for two hundred and ten years, but that’s another story.


Farm Days


I’d file down the metal plate in Gumps’s head,
my father, a retired tool and die maker, tells me.
During the summer, when it got humid,
the metal would expand and stick out of his head.
Gumps was running a hay baler and didn’t
turn it off when he climbed underneath to see

why it wasn’t working. The plate covered
the hole in his head.  Hey Julius, he’d say,
it’s sticking out again. Not many people
knew Gumps’s real name; his wife was Mrs. Gumps,
and his kids were Gumps’s kids. Gumps worked
for Adolph in the cow barn, chicken coop,

and hay fields, whatever needed doing. I worked
for Adolph from one to four each afternoon,
then I would go back to our farm.  Your mother
and I raised chickens, sold eggs, but we’d always
try something new to make extra money.
Once, we raised squabs for Victor Borge who had

a contract to sell them to the railroad.
He didn’t pay, and we had to hire a lawyer.
I also sold chickens to Mrs. Cesario–   
slaughtered them, took off the heads, and your mother
cleaned them and plucked all the pinfeathers.
I wanted to make a good impression.

She wanted live chickens. Next time, she showed
me how they killed them back in the old country.
She held the chicken by its neck, and her
neighbor held the feet, and they pulled. After that,
I just dropped off the chickens; I didn’t
bother to stick around for the show.


Working Vacation


That morning, we did nothing more
than sit on the small balcony
off of our room and watch a light
wind blow through maple leaves
and an old oak tree, and stare up
at the sky dotted with white clouds.
No matter how we tried, they didn’t
have a shape we could name. I should
have used the morning to catch up
on some reading, do some hand washing,
or visit some historic site
listed in that guide book we bought,
even though it was our last day.

        return to poetry

Janet R. Kirchheimer is the author of How To Spot One Of Us (2007).  Her work has appeared in journals including Atlanta Review, Potomac Review, Limestone, Connecticut Review, Kalliope, Common Ground Review, and on beliefnet.com. Work is forthcoming in Villanelles (Everyman's Library Pocket Poets). In 2011, Janet was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation from the army for her work in the 2009 Multi-National Forces Days of Remembrance Holocaust Memorial Service held at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq, and in 2010 received a Citation for her work from The Council of The City of New York.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she is also the recipient of a Drisha Institute for Jewish Education Arts Fellowship.  She is a Teaching Fellow at Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.