a literary review
It’s true. There are places we’d rather be
although anywhere but here is tricky to pin
on the wall map my son & I hung,
pushed thumbtacks into—color coding
where we’ve been & soon going & want
very much to someday. Last night, here
again washes the river from my clothes.
Some times it’s worth trying to figure out
how to say, This, how to say here, how
to do more than point, how to recognize
what is indisputably true. Other times
impossibility of scale makes all sense
ridiculous. Maybe it all comes down
to perspective. Maybe anywhere but here isn’t
quite accurate. There is sky & water &
us, all of us, wanting to be somewhere.
There is where we are not. There is
sky & water & us moving toward
a future we’re already pushing into, hard.
We loved the rush-hour most, the cars suit-filled, briefcase-heavy,
practicing our balance or weaving through the tired end-of-day
to find those small gaps where we could wedge ourselves.
Never mind if we could hold on, never mind someone
else’s elbow just above our sight-line—we’d close our eyes
& learn by heart the names of all the stops on all the routes
we ever traveled. All these years later, we can still voice
each conductor—they were human then. How they called out
every station: a long-lost sister, a soldier’s return, the welcoming
home, a sorrowful locked door, lights left burning in an otherwise
empty brownstone. Or we loved most the old wooden platforms
on the elevated lines quaking beneath our feet when the express
passed us by, & we’d sometimes hold out our arms to feel that rush
of air with our whole bodies. Or we loved riding the express & the blurred
versions of everyone who could’ve been us. Or the conductor’s
ticket punch, & the conductor’s nod, & the conductor, always,
his uniform, his purposefulness, how he’d slip between cars, how
he’d put a hand on the shoulders of dozers near their usual stops.
As the cars emptied out, we’d push toward window seats, facing back
-ward, & watch it all go by. What trains know we tried our best to learn:
their mournful whistle, the pressure of time, the pressure of gravity,
how to carry every single weariness without slowing down, how to find
a view—no matter the direction, no matter the size of the frame.
By rote the body learns nearly everything, after
all. Not by touch. Not even muscle memory. In this town smalled
by proximity to water, slowed by distance to shore line or tide,
where I’ve been now longer than I’ve been anywhere, I’ve taken
to retraining my body the routes disrupted. Even traffic patterns—
what light, what sign, what turn-only lane—broken. For months
that underpass closed, that overpass going up, & now another
fire, one that guts a half block where once a boy I loved
climbed through a window to open a door for me to walk through
& we knelt together in a kind of light I’ve spent years trying
to replicate—the closest to holy I’ve known—& these days,
it’s all going up again, closed down again, blocked off or
re-routed, & getting lost to find new ways out is another
complication on an already indecipherably creased map, one
we never thought we’d need to untuck from where we’d folded it
all those years ago. Which is to say, every street I turn down
detours. Which is really to say, these days there’s no other choice.
Which is to say, the more beautiful the building the more flammable.
Which is to say, the more delicate the thing the easier it’s gone.
When morning was almost unrecognizable as morning
& the light diffused by a fog so un-winter like we couldn’t
say with certainty that this was even something close to some
variation, we thought what time had become was something
suspended, something halted like the season itself, held small
in our palms or tucked in a pocket, forgotten & then washed,
that kind of forgetting, which is not really forgetting at all but
omission—the morning an elision, winter elided, our bodies
knowing only the thin rubbings erasers leave behind. That that
morning undone by light was something far short of miracle,
we are learning this year to winter here means, Let it go—.
Means even this gauzy sky will betray. Means even our hearts
here, where the horizon goes on & on, will turn to look toward
where, in another year there’d be only white, endless for miles,
the fields are stripped bare, stilled & waiting, kept waiting.
Some disasters are given names, others called after
the town flattened, the force of fury, the body
of water provoked. We name when we know they’re
advancing toward us; we tag them with a number
when they surprise. Small disasters of every single day—
that wear us down or that we wear round our shoulders,
even in heat, the ones that remind us how human
we are, how tiny, how much of nothing—go un-baptized,
however tragic. & we don’t romanticize heat with names,
just say a month, a year, the region, if we can sputter out even
that, stunned quiet as we become. Here, though the corn’s already
high enough to lean in, to lean over, there’ll be no bumper crop
again, this year of no rain. When the weather broke—no,
who am I kidding?—when it broke us & I told you you
heard heart broke, & I had trouble correcting the slip,
the endless heart break I can’t say aloud in fear of making
permanent. Memorializing it. This brittle of our keeps-breaking
hearts. We can’t name it hunger, won’t call it ruin or sorry or
devastated, not yet, but we could.
~ ~ ~
Monica Berlin’s solo poems and essays have been published in many journals. Her collaboration with Beth Marzoni, No Shape Bends the River So Long, was awarded the 2013 New Measure Poetry Prize (forthcoming in late 2014 with Free Verse Editions, an imprint of Parlor Press). She lives and teaches in Galesburg, Illinois. Visit Monica’s website here.