C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Sheila’s Marginalia; Blue Yonder; Ask Anybody

By: L.R.Berger


Sheila’s Marginalia


After she died, the books

that were her friends

went home with her friends.

I buckled mine

into the passenger seat

steering away from the home

where she’d always refused

any facts supporting

hopelessness, branding me

traitor for answering,

Yes, it’s true what they say,

you are going to die now.


That’s how it is

with the sturdy tugboat

women call friendship.

We haul in the oxygen

tanks, crack jokes

redispensing

vomited medication.

We tell the kids,

we phone the ex-husband.

We declare bathing

incontestable and bawl

without apology. We tack

the note to her door

she dictates before leaving

on the stretcher for hospice:

Gone Fishing.


Surrounding the deathbed

we take all requests

for songs, for touch, for

chips of ice held to dry lips.

Sing that one again.

We hold the children,

we comfort the children,

steal the rose from the styrofoam

cup and strew its petals


down over the heart

waiting for the undertaker.

Then we go home

and await the ingenious means

our dead friends devise

to keep talking to us.


Sheila’s medium is

her flare for marginalia

in those books

unpacked and shelved

among my own ten years ago.

Just this morning over coffee

she said, Listen to this!

her five pointed star

penned in blue beside,

There are 84,000

dharma doors

always available to wake us.


I reread that sentence

fingertip to star.

Her two pencilled

question marks

beside a paragraph

on reincarnation

waiting when I turn

the page.






Blue Yonder


The geese are going places,


flying west in formation

low over the tidal marsh.


We’re all going places,

some of us flying low

under evening’s sky


closer to the place

we all end up going.


There was a time

I wanted to go with them—


watched them coursing south

across a late October field


in a dream I woke from

crying, Take me with you.


My body that night, the place

they were passing through.


I can still hear them calling

though they’ve flown

out of sight like the dead


whom I also love, gone

to their unimaginable places.


Who knew I’d still be here,

at home, at last,

feet to good earth?


Good luck, I holler,

with everything I’ve got—


words pitched

weightless,


no trace of longing

for any blue yonder.





Ask Anybody


I am carrying on. Ask anybody.

The only way to photograph wind

is to catch it cool-handed

stirring something —

night’s white nightgown flying

pinned by a seam

to the clothesline.

On that second-hand

bicycle of childhood,

pumping hard

I could turn speed

into wind. I made it to save me.

Ask anybody. Wind

is God’s great source

of subsequently

visible gestures.

I’ve been meaning to tell you,

the wind was so strong

on Tuesday, I leaned into it

forging up the hill

to the orchard

as if pressing

through something,

as if moving forward

despite. Love was in the wind,

wind pushing in the other

direction. Even the trees

were carrying on—and words,

desiring each other,

aspiring to be gestures.

Forgive me. I’m always

trying to pin one down

on a page. Your left hand

cupping the right side

of my face before the movie.

My chin at rest

in your palm.

You were drawing me

toward you. Ask anybody.





L.R.Berger’s collection of poems, 'TheUnexpectedAviary,' received the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry. She’s been the grateful recipient of fellowships and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the PEN New England Discovery Award, the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and The American Academy in Rome. With Kamal Boullatta, she assisted in the translation from the Arabic of “Beginnings” by Adonis (Pyramid Atlantic Press). She lives and writes in NH within earshot of the Contoocook River.


Interview with the Poet:


Cathexis Northwest Press: How long have you been writing poetry?


L.R. Berger:

I began writing poetry after my second grade school teacher silently placed two books of poetry on my desk. Perhaps she intuited that poems could enter and engage the deep silence I was lost to at the time. Those poems introduced me to a world of music and voices that I heard nowhere else in my life, and offered themselves as evidence that deeper human resonance and companionship existed. Not that I exactly understood this at the time. But I felt I could make a home in the world of poems, and I'd be welcome.

CNP: Can you remember the first poem you read that made you fall in love with poetry?


L.R. B:

One of the books, which I still have, was "The Hand Organ Man" by Elias Lieberman. The poem that captivated me, "To A Tree" was dedicated to the school children of New York. The first line read, "Let me stand under your great arms and feel your benediction..." and there was a black and white etching on the facing page with a small, naked human at the foot of a mammoth tree.

CNP: Who are your favorite poets? Any specific poems?


L.R. B:

At the moment I am happily lost to the poems of Joy Harjo.


CNP: Can you share for us a little bit about your writing process? Any specific rituals that get you in the zone?


L.R. B:

I compose in the morning when new ideas, phrases, images have the spaciousness to arise with a mug of coffee. Revision can happen any other time of day, but new work needs morning air and light and quiet mind. I also have long silences when it seems I've forgotten how to make a poem. During this time I keep a journal of word lists, untethered images, phrases. And read a lot.


I often don't know where a poem is taking me, so I have to weather through a period of uncertainty while holding to some faith that what can feel like chaos will find its way to clarity. That can take weeks, months. But sometimes it takes decades. I'm a snail. When a poem arrives near whole, which is very rare given how my mind works, I live in astonished gratitude.

CNP: How do you decide the form for your poems? Do you start writing with a form in mind, or do you let the poem tell you what it will look like as you go?


L.R. B:

My poems always have to lead the way as to form.

Someone once told me writing depended on a precise relationship between will and grace.

My will tends to need to ride in the back seat until it's time for revision. CNP: When do you know that a poem is finished?


L.R. B:

I am an insufferable revisionist. Some people describe this process as feeling the poem isn't "good enough." I am not so much sitting in judgment about a poem's worth, so much as I am perpetually sensing that the poem can go further, deeper, take yet another more interesting turn. At some point I decide a poem has come a long way and send it out.


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