April Bernard is a poet, novelist, and essayist. Brawl & Jag, her fifth collection of poems, is out this spring from W.W. Norton; Miss Fuller, a novel, was published by Steerforth Press in 2012. Her previous books of poems are Romanticism, Swan Electric, Psalms, and Blackbird Bye Bye. Bernard is a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books and other journals. She has received a Guggenheim fellowship in poetry and the Stover Memorial Prize. Educated at Harvard University, she worked in book and magazine publishing in New York City, and has taught at Barnard, Yale, Columbia, Amherst and Bennington colleges. She is Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing at Skidmore College, and is also on the Core Faculty on the Bennington MFA Writing Program.
Roy Orbison and John Milton are Still Dreaming
You know what I mean: In the instant
of waking in bliss, the whole body smiles—
He’s still alive—She came back—They didn’t mean it—
We forgive and are forgiven—It all turned out—
And then the hand claws the duvet,
seized by the real, as all that’s warm just drops.
I know you know. But I seek a potion
to make me dream of the actual with the same fervor,
so I’ll wake to happy facts: It’s spring! It’s raining! Robins!
Someone will return a phone call today! My son
has watched the clock and let me nap for 35 minutes!—
and does not notice my face smacked wet
by the snap of the delusion, unmatched in sweetness,
that you promised to hold me always.
At least that many buffet here, and I
erect as the monument despite my hope to be flattened.
If only the winds could take the horse-sobs
that heave from me, wind-whipped
without the grace of speech; if only
these small creatures with amused, skeptical eyes
could offer me their chittering, their business
of fetching and nesting in the fields.
One day I fear the barometer’s shift
will shatter the surface of the vessel,
jarring me into bloody words—catastrophe
will fill the strophe then—
Unless, winds, you take my speech and rend it
into untranslatable rainy hootings.
The cloth edge of certainty
has shredded down to this:
God and love are real,
but very far away.
If I go to Istanbul, will I return?
That is not one of the permitted questions.
When I go to Istanbul, how will I bear to return?
I could slip into the small streets
to the high plain and the Caucasus—
It’s all alone, the returning,
the going. The cloth,
a soft holland whose blocks of blue and lemon
once cheered me in a skirt,
now dries dishes. God and love
are very far away, farther even
than the mountains in the east.
Beagle or Something
The composer’s name was Beagle or something,
one of those Brits who make the world wistful
with chorales and canticles and this piece,
a tone poem or what-have-you,
chimes and strings aswirl, dangerous for one
whose eye lids and sockets have been rashing from tears.
The music occupied the car where
I had parked and then sat, staring at
a tree, a smallish maple,
fire-gold and half-undone by the wind,
shaking in itself,
shocking blue morning sky behind, and also
the trucks and telephone wires and dogs
and children late to school along Orange Street, but
it was the tree that caused an uproar,
it was the tree that shook and shed,
aureate as a shaken soul, I remembered
I was supposed to have one—for convenience
I placed it in my chest, the heart being away,
and now it seems the soul has lodged there, shaking,
golden-orange, half-spent but clanging
truer than Beagle music or my forehead pressed
hard on the steering wheel in petition for release.