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Five Poems
Heartbroken in Your Memoir

Thank you for immortalizing me
in half a sentence, while you, the protean

go-getter, feed me soup, jasmine-tip tea.
If I were to meet my 21-year-old self

now, I’d never befriend her, but you fell into my lap––
literally––the night Ryan drugged us & I begged you

to get me the hell out of Lowell.
Thank you for that & for your Lady-of-Shallot look,

for being the only girl I kissed at the lesbian party
we’d waited all fall for, somewhere

on the Lower East Side, almost too east
to count back then—when Queens was still cheap,

my life a milky white, opaque & vague.
Who among us hadn’t been compromised:

one morning waking up saying to nobody,
how did that happen? Then walking home

in the same clothes we’d laid out
the day before, in shoes not meant for distances

or daylight, past everyone with headsets
commuting to Wall. After six months

you left & I moved to the R’s last stop,
my apartment so close to the tracks it shook.


Venice is Sinking

and so am I––into this wrought-iron chair––
distracted by laundry, a stranger’s blouse blown stiff,

and my own mosquito-wrecked legs: that’s what I get
for getting lost in the half-light.

There was a rushed introduction, the Giudecca
slack, sky-colored. No, I’ve never been attached

(infatuated, yes, but not attached). I ditched Dawn,
my only friend, when the Carabinieri

caught wind of her hash. Or I broke a glass––
not in anger, by accident, a tongue in my ear.

Then the crowd disappeared with the pigeons
that would eat from my hands if I let them.


Between Pound and Olga, the violinist,
is a lush laurel I watered with wine.

For him the laurel means enlightenment
even in San Michele, where there are no woods,

a shrub here and there by a gravestone,
but for me––the state I entered was treelike:

I was lying on my back on my hands,
I didn’t ask for it, my head 

floating farther and farther away.
I was counting backwards from a thousand in Italian

and on the grass a dirty skirt.


As the vaporetto passed San Vio’s soap-smooth posts,
I nearly tossed myself over. Another A Lume Spento.


With tapers quenched, I walked out
of the dream I was stuck in.

O moon my pin-up,
how I wish I were a woman frescoed

in a loose dress, pulled by the hair
to heaven. Or Titian’s voluptuous Virgin

rising above everyone who tries to touch her.
Red gown, blue shawl, her gaze always God-ward

she can’t bear to look down.


I blame the diaphanous water,
the way the light struck my face.
Outside Wagner, afternoon bells.
No, not forlorn

––nauseous on a mosaic floor,
unmoved by the view

a caged man once longed for:
Santa Maria dei Miracoli’s jewel-box façade,

the limestone siren with her nipple up
touching herself.

Yes, beauty is difficult.
And some days are dreadful without wind or rain

or paradise painted at the end.



Jen says she’s
an inadequate one

on bed rest
for months.

The weaker vessel,
according to the nuns

who taught me
every subject

from first grade onward.
Sisters of Saint Joseph,

founded by six women
in a small kitchen

in 17th-century Le Puy:
among them, an orphan,

of course, a lost

a war widow.
Is that (widow-turned-

nun) even allowed?
In Rochester I’d known only

the opposite, failed nuns
who married, then sent

their girls to my school.
During the French Revolution

this congregation of women
fell apart, their convents

Many became

martyrs, guillotined
in honor of God

or maybe Mary in Dauphine.
That transatlantic journey

post-revolution must have been endless.
How many had scurvy?

How many died
en route to New Orleans

aboard the Natchez
as vulnerable a vessel as any?

How many looked up
at the sky each night

never more aware
of its emptiness?


Summer in Kittery

For pity, for the passerby who might point, I’m wafting around in a nightgown.

When did winter become rain in sheets, August, the lilies unwither themselves?

How they open to overwhelm the others that give in, tired of night, of lasting.   

The ocean dulled, gull-less, nobody’s passed, not a single dinghy––I look through it for too long

for the man who, come dawn, will set himself on fire by the shipyard.

A woman watching, I’ll read in the paper later, will mistake the gasoline poured over his head for seawater.

What I can’t see in this dark I know from memory: honey locust, stray, wait-a-bit

thorn, then Nate glowing from darts, a few drinks, the moon’s residue on the shirt that looks like Easter.

I feel for the missing button halfway across a bridge dividing two states––no, bringing them together.


Rodin’s Fallen Caryatid

She’s collapsing under her big stone:
woe, love, whatever. Vase, urn, bowl,

the cup made of hands at the brook
––what holds is hollow.

Does a child ever recover
from losing the vessel who bore her,

pushed her out of one watery world into this? 

Is it an image of damnation?
A grave woman contorted,

knocked over. And yet
we see her grace, her goddess-

smooth curves yielding to the earth.
Is it the stone––what she holds—

or the weight of her hollow body that betrays her?

Lindsay Bernal is the author of What It Doesn’t Have to Do With (University of Georgia Press, Fall 2018), winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series competition. She coordinates the Creative Writing Program at the University of Maryland.