Two poems – Jess Bernhard

Jess Bernhardt

mass, gravity.

I want to talk to you
about time
because I’ve been thinking about it
a lot, lately.


“We must remember to make things
of infinite mass,” you said, before stepping
out the window.
I don’t know much about mass
but I’m an expert in weight and
know an awful lot
about gravity, too. Not as much
as you did. And I expect
you knew time, too,
in those high-speed real-slow moments peering
into the windows of our apartment building
to see old men
in red shirts
watering house plants and
dark movers carrying an armoire
and young mothers seducing their children
with plastic toys.
You felt the seconds brushing over
your waxen face.
“It is difficult to live,” you said,
“when you realize you can be reduced
to a relatively straightforward
algorithm,” five years ago.
It was clear


you were shooting up
between your toes,
entre les ongles noirs,
still very beautiful behind a cup of coffee.
It is hard to see things that are not
beautiful, even harder
to see the gorgeous.
What is gravity
when you have these long, white fingers?
Your solitude had a man inside it;
he conveyed you down the street
to bars and lectures.
When you’d been too long drunk
you would go to the library

to check out unreadable books
and stare out of windows.
At the time, it was meaningless.
You left questions
unanswered, like
could we have done something? and
what is time when the world is drenched
in latent meaning? and
who would tell your parents?

i eat melted cheese at a cheap
roadside restaurant
to regain the sense
that i animate
this body — by stopping it,
by setting it here and not
at the coffee shop one block away
that it frequents,
punishing it with salt
and fat
so that later tonight
(hardly worthwhile)
i can take my clothes off in the belief
that the hours
belong to me
— and with the clothes remove
this fantasy, too, because the hours
belong to the sun and to gravity
and to the distance
of where we are
against where that is
and some asteroid that hit us
and sent us reeling decades
(and minutes) ago.

Time’s apology.
Which is misleading
but true
after the fashion
of true things.
other agents animate, too, like
wage labor and
duty and
fear but
they’re less fun, less “tickle pants”
as Dad says, so let’s leave them
where we found them,
several lines back.
habit accounts for 40%
of each day,
brushing teeth, saying
“fine, thanks” (i’d hate to bore you)
and this petty rebellion
is routine, too, or was, once.

my angst no longer interests me
and my wildness has sat
too long
beside the file.
i always escape
to the same places.
there was a time when i spent
my last pennies
on champagne and theatre tickets
and now it’s water and melted cheese
on a shaded patio.
one is not better than the other
they are the same
and that is the point,
do you see?
other things animate, too, of course.
perhaps you know already
but i wonder
how many squirrels
(with a tremble)
died on the road today, their tails now moved
by invisible strings
and the wind of
passing cars,
billowing, heralding, the rest of
the precious body
ground into the asphalt, but one
wild flutter
for every speeding truck

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