Five Poems

By Paula Bernett



Thirty women appear in the portrait
because at the last minute Sunday #31,
naughty last-born child,
ducked under their wide skirts,
hid under cascades of  chintz, satin and chambray,
worsted, brilliantine, shantung, tricolette,
every fabric under the sun stitched
and gusseted as if such cosseting of the one
who even now advances;
as if such costumery in its wild dazzle
would dizzy the one
who even now comes closer;
hid under those warm wide skirts
of velveteen, taffeta, and worsted,
wrapped himself in mousseline and dotted swiss,
as if such swaddlings might save him,
#31, boychild among women
heating inside their magnificent textiles
they think might woo the one
who creeps ever nearer; 
hid among drapes of boucle and matelasse,
organdie, velour and sateen
cascading from hourglass waists they pray
the one will close his hands around,
his eyes dropped shut, face pressed
into bodices stitched with hieroglyph
and eroticisms; hid there,
among billows of plisse and chiffon,
between crepes and cottons, the crush of crinoline
and rough linens they think might give him pause,
whose breath the child can feel on his bare toes
peeking beneath a hem
as the eye of the one who even now has come,
roves the row of women, and misses him.



I dig one chamber, then another nearby.
I shovel the dirt from the first one into it.  

Then I dig a third, and do the same,
and a fourth and a fifth and go on like this
the whole night long.  

With the stars wheeling on broken axles and a gong
marking the hours.

Swell with pride, broken, faint of, and absence makes
scribbled in red crayon, are crossed out in black.  

More chambers to dig, each one filled with the dirt of another.

I lay down my spade, my body, my raiment and sleep
beside the last chamber dug, beside the little pile of dirt ready
to fill the next.

The shush of backwash through the faulty aortic valve,
the one-way gate into the left atrium damaged by old wars,
the hitching gait of the relentless stars.

Blue pushes to red to blue again, from fire to quench to fire.
Finally, to say heart.



I will be your little sin—
a pebble skidded on, a knee skinned,
a hailstone spat from an errant cloud.
I’ll be the hint of furrow in your brow,
an evil wish deep-sixed,
an endearing gaffe.
But I won’t be incursion
without retreat,
nor the pinprick of mortal illness—
that gestation;
nor the long scar of incision
or the hitch of crippling.
I will live for the nip
in our last sweet kiss, the bloom
of blood on a tender lip.



To wit! 
A bee’s nest
in a junked Mercedes Benz. 
How the bees got in –
one by one
through the windshield shatter
where the guy, the drunk,
the father sick at heart
plunged through. 
Went off to death
with just that slap,
dispatched by the same god
who let the bees into
the wrecked Benz. 
Small comfort,
that stingy buzz,
the stinging prayers of us,
our snub-nosed curse.



— for C.D. Wright, 1949-2016

It sailed off lifted on a wind devil whirl that might have been
spun from a fit of grief furnaced by rage.
Went away just like that, the voice of your body leaving
a vacancy that began looking for itself, inside the vacancy
which is where you plunged, the first available vacancy
was good enough and you down there you drew the long coils of sentences
run on into amplitudes cut loose from the throat, bereft, down between
thumb and forefinger and around your left elbow.
I could follow you there hurriedly but then you fed the careful knotted skein
of cadence and pulse to the coals blown to brief flame
and thus rejoined and raised up you leapt away.

Paula Bernett's poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, The Louisville Review, Rattle, and Whiskey Island, among others. Her lyric essay "Digression and Memory, The Handmaiden Effect," and a companion essay, "Four Hands Improvising on a Piano" appeared in Fourth Genre. She is the recipient of the St. John’s College 2011 Essay Prize, and holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from St. John’s College.