Lucas Bernhardt, a recent father, wrote these five poems and gave them to us a few years ago. I’ve used the first one in classrooms a number of times, and the success of that endeavor is one of many reasons I’m grateful for the set of them. — AS
Allegory of the Drivers’ Ed Vehicle
Mr. Hall, in the passenger seat, rests his foot
lightly on the instructor’s brake pedal.
Mike, a reticent, even-handed stoner,
has us stopped at a red light. Lisa
and I sit in back, looking out
our respective windows at the dead
wild hay on the edge of town. The light turns,
but Mike is elsewhere and does not
accelerate. I dig my knee into his seatback
and he comes to. The car moving,
Mr. Hall sighs through his teeth.
He had been my middle school gym coach,
and also, by his own account, a world
class wrestler cut at the last minute
from two U.S. Olympic teams.
Once, in international competition, he played
a trick on a stronger, more skilled
opponent. Certain he would
otherwise lose the match, Mr. Hall dug his finger
into his own eye socket and popped out
his eye, then pinned the other
wrestler in his “Dutch” vomit.
I know almost nothing about Lisa,
just her dull brown hair.
I could not look at any other
part of her. She had been
scolded earlier for repeatedly failing
to come to a complete stop, to look both ways,
to cover the brake. Mr. Hall
asked her to pull over and delivered
a humiliating lecture. You do not have to drive,
he said, You can always walk or ride a bike.
Mike pulls onto the freeway as directed.
His posture less rigid,
he seems to enjoy the freeway.
Gaining on a semi, Mr. Hall says, Easy.
Lisa sits as far from me
as the back seat allows. A rabbit leaps
from the shoulder into the hub
of one of the semi’s double wheels.
But for a spray of grey-brown fur,
it disappears. Mr. Hall laughs, nervously
at first. Lisa shifts and looks further away—
I really like her.
Mike, staring deep
into the wheel of the truck, says, Sick.
Some Notes on the State of Romantic Pessimism
I hadn’t planned on describing the immunization clinic, but the woman across from me in the waiting room began taking rapid notes as soon as she sat down; she is about my age, maybe younger, wearing black pants, socks, and shoes and a lavender High Sierra jacket. Her purse looks like it’s been to Guatemala. If it is in poor taste to sketch down one’s impressions only in the presence of the poor and infirm, perhaps my notes on her note taking will cancel the fault.
Weltschmerz, a word I learned from watching the national spelling bee on ABC, means sadness caused by comparing the actual state of the world with an ideal state. I would like to know its antonym, a term for the world outstripping an ideal, and I would like to know what that feels like. If all this doesn’t sound like sanctimonious nonsense, I should add that the woman looks familiar, like we had a long talk at a party once or I bought staples from her many times. I’m what they call bad with faces. Perhaps this is a feature of a more generalized weltschmerz: strange faces are never strange enough, friends somehow unfamiliar.
The woman was just called in to see a nurse. Her name is Aurora. A toddler with a rash on his upper lip takes her seat.
Manifesto of the Atemporalists
The mirror in the mirror is the mirror in the mirror.
We are still human, wheel within wheel. Accept
the illusion of “Dinner at seven!” wryly, and be reminded
of the fates of the multitudes of counterrevolutionaries.
Time is eternity’s shop floor. Eternity is time’s tokenism.
The cog knows sameness of expressions is not sameness
of feeling. The pendulous need only sway. As we know,
confronted with what they can neither renounce nor achieve,
those allied with time are sure to die. We recognize
all temporal measures are drastic, uneven, unfair.
In plotting its approach, retreat, and utter stagnation,
the four Williams of the apocalypse proclaim
reality is indivisible. Ulysses never left home.
Mohammed loved disloyalty. Life never suffered
death’s imposition. The wrapper tears awake.
Search, research, and comprehension defy syntax.
Nations and institutions refine and restrict fictitious bodies
inscribed with the sign of Augustine.
Though you often feel confused and drowsy, speak
reasonably. As the first William’s He did not go in
eagerness, He comes up the lane fast, and as a loan
and used it though he would not have had to occur in
the uncertain distance wherein perspective fails
the barrier, analytics fail perspective, and trust
dissmells—Augustinian time is here. As the second William
bathes the fall in corrosives, Augustinian time is here.
As the third William admits, I went into deep water,
and admits, I went in too deep water,
and in both instances, Trying to get home,
Augustinian time is here. Augustinian time, the eye
in the wheel, sequence and collapse—as one hog
waits for another, we await the fourth William.
A girl in a red silk dress
tries to cross the street,
though no one I know
is making her. On the porch
above her trouble, who can I tell
about the girl and the dress
while a birthday labors through,
again, the Al Green record?
Down there a girl who bought
a dress with money her parents
hoped she would keep
involves the street
in predilections of silk
and legs of wine. Honestly,
I’m glad I have imagined
rather than lived seventy-
thousand sexual encounters,
and so is she who,
all throughout the dress,
and before her plastic cups,
was my girlfriend.
Infidelities of Coal
The difference between
saying What’s funny
for doing things you
regret at parties is
and thinking first
beneath leaves, napping
like gnats in the
toward dusk, then of
the smoldering, always
more hooked than
awhirl, a thread
of ash looking back
at the crawling
coal, and finally
of regret itself
resting with its wings
its back like a
closed pair of scissors,
housed in the eye,
glinting in the facets
of the eye, is
that our words
outsmart us the way
a diamond out-
smarts a seam,
a miner outsmarts
a diamond, a boss
outsmarts a miner,
etc., and even
if the diamond-cutter
grimace, there we are
atop the fiance’s
why, if our lives
are so important,
they should be