“If there were a middle    ground between things and the soul

or if the sky resembled more the sea,
I wouldn’t have to scold.
my heavy daughter.”

Dream Song 385, John Berryman


Bonds of booze latched behind beveled wood

and glass.  All day, the window; the bare

ground hard as iron; the woods, still

stone crosses.  Strangely sentient, the un-

plugged telephone near the sleeping cat;

daughter drags in the latest cold from school,

mittening a paper collage of winter stars.

All night crystals dune at our door.


Morning, I get up from writing near the window

(the Christmas cactus flames) walk across

cold maple, slip on wool-lined boots and open

biting December.  Warmth from the house vapors

into God-rutted cornfields: ivory Sahara.

I trot pushing daughter on her sled, icing

a run.  I backfall into a drift, drunken with cold.



(from The Dryland Fish, 1st World, 2003)



Berryman: December: The Shore

Each day I come to the end of this pier,

to the tarry fragrance of rotting planks

and shellfish, to kick the sand carried here

by my shoes into the Atlantic.

I love that sound–not like the ocean

frying rocks on the beach–but that fizz,

manmade, sand peppering water.  The motion

of ships in the drizzle

is huge and slow.  Burdened with ore

they seem asleep.  I hate my life.  Sweating or

sleepless, unwilling

to scar this painless existence:

this is the air browned by the steel mill

at the end of the tongue.  This is death.


(First published in The MacGuffin, Volume VIII, Number 1, Spring 1991 as “December: The Shore.”)