Poem of the Day: Erica Bernheim

by | Dec 7, 2015 | Poem of the Day Series, Reading




I’m willing to bet that greasy twenty
stuck to the bottom of your empty
file cabinet, it’s never me you think of
when you try to shoot yourself
onto the ceilings of your apartment.
Your thoughts lie somewhere in the sink
you call your Amazon Basin, soapy home
to blue Julies and banded Lisas and frozen
Charlottes, their spiny tongues making short
work of crumpled toothpaste tubes
and tiny spoons and the questionable
ghost of your mother’s lover who kicked
your dog across state lines, showing little
more remorse than a teenage shoplifter.
Last night I dreamt you took out the
trash, flipped beautiful lean burgers
on an outdoor grill; I can see you talking
to the plumber, convincing him to lose
himself down the slimmest of pipes
in search of what we’ve discarded
and still cannot move past. Without
you, I dream of blood in my stomach,
my breath shrinking when jewelry
salesmen beckon enormous topazes
in my direction, and I am always tempted
to move towards that city which has yet
to discover neon. It is my turn to bask
in the limelight. My turn, Tabasco.
The lime’s light, and this glass so heavy.
Pretending we have been pensive, all bets
are often decided by the sea star, stomach
flowing out its mouth, straight to
the point, that food, nothing gets wasted,
save a few starfish, one backed against the
wall, tube feet straining to make sense of
a truck that refuses to shift into reverse, and
is still going nowhere fast, a bad phrase,
a neck in the creek, a tiny piece of skin,
determined not to let you love it, or ever
be able to give it up. Watch out
for this, super-mouth, skullcap of bald, you
don’t have to adjust your ill-fitting pants to know
everyone’s looking down, and there’s everything
you could do about it and won’t. The gum I pull
from well-tractioned heels clings like a
cinnamon-scented animal, who knows what it
doesn’t know yet is worse than being
stepped on. I’m sorry for still thinking of
you, for wanting to clip your nails with
left-handed scissors for no reason other
than to be difficult, to repeat an old
man’s mantra in your ugly ears while
you pretend not to be asleep, “The bench
is in the church, the bench is in the church.”
Virgil Moon is willing to see my bet
and raise us both, straighten our legs,
and get our minds out of the soap
dish, but the line at his window is too long.
Tell me something dreamy and hopeful,
why Virgil Moon’s hair is in such
disarray, why his face has fallen so. If
there is a reason to clean out the sink, I
should be notified. Virgil Moon, with your
thick face, grab me by my ankles and
make a wish. Play my heart like a
terrible, hot fiddle, replace me with catgut,
and see what I’ll look like come Monday
morning. Virgil Moon, you are over the top
and smell like canned beans. Virgil Moon
with the top down, making his travel plans
to the museum and to the beach. Virgil Moon
takes back the ring. Spit me out sideways,
somewhere near a track where dogs are
supposed to race, and place your bets against
me. I will disappoint.


—from Erica Bernheim’s The Mimic Sea, 42 Miles Press (2012)
—previously appeared in Black Warrior Review (30.2)