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Five Poems by William Bernhardt

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry on May 27, 2015 at 8:45 am

William Bernhardt

William Bernhardt is the bestselling author of more than forty books, including the blockbuster Ben Kincaid series of novels, the historical novel Nemesis: The Final Case of Eliot Ness, currently being adapted into an NBC miniseries, a book of poetry (The White Bird), and a series of books on fiction writing. In addition, Bernhardt founded the Red Sneaker Writing Center, hosting writing workshops and small-group seminars and becoming one of the most in-demand writing instructors in the nation. His monthly eBlast, The Red Sneaker Writers Newsletter, reaches over twenty thousand people.


This is how it begins:
scratches on signs, on blocks
on a white page. Then the
scratches start to dance. They
recombinate, they collect sounds
they call your name.
Like so much in childhood
they are ciphers, full of secrets
but once you learn the dance
the mysteries of this world
and more, are revealed.
You learn to read.

You learn:
manners from Goldilocks
curiosity from George
gluttony from Peter
nonsense from Alice.
You set sail with Jim Hawkins, raft with Huck
And row with Mole.
Love is eternal, Catherine tells you
But so is madness, says the first Mrs. Rochester.
Jeeves helps you laugh
poetry helps you cry
Atticus shows you how to do both, with courage.

Not only have the scratches shaped the world
they have shaped your world.
They have taught you how to see.
Now you need never be afraid.

Now you will never be alone.
In the darkest night
in the deepest solitude
The scratches will call to you.
You will open the covers.
They will reach out their arms and say,
You thought you were the only one?


AIB 13

I was prepared for the Awkward Age
the physical changes, personality,
frustration, exasperation, even rage—
but not for this.

I was prepared to smile knowingly, thinking
This too shall pass.
And we will always love each other, I tell myself
as much as it is possible to love anyone

You are in your room, alone, with a book.
Who showed you how to read?
Seemed like a good idea at the time.
My questions are greeted with
monosyllabic replies, grunts,
eye rolls, withering glares, sarcasm—
the lowest form of human discourse—
and finally the screaming:
Why can’t you just leave me alone?

Here’s why:
I still remember reading you Charlotte’s Web
taking you for long walks in the rain
through the San Juan Mountains
watching you sneak downstairs after bedtime
so we could watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer
coming to the choir loft
midway through the service
so you could sit on my lap.

The Awkward Age is supposed to be
awkward for you, not me. I should
be the parent
but instead I’m a marionette
with tangled strings, a poor sap trapped
in Shelob’s web
and you are the elusive hummingbird
who hovers in midair for a short time
and then skitters away
faster than my eye can follow.



As it turns out, the Black Forest
looks nothing like Black Forest cake.
And the gambling resort town of Baden-Baden
looks nothing like Las Vegas, thank God.
Men do not wear shorts in the casino,
hairy legs shouting, “Show me the eight!”
The only sex shop—Erotik World—is discretely tucked away on a
Side street,
not advertised on a video monitor larger than the state of Rhode
And there is not a Starbucks on every corner.

The others in my group say this is just like an American resort town,
a tourist trap, which snares the unsuspecting
with offers of soft ice cream and bottled water
that will restore your youth.
But they are wrong.
Where is the venture capitalist
as proud of his swelling belly
as he is of his adolescent wife
with her high-pitched giggle, blonde ringlets, and denim-short-
Where are the other captains of industry,
the ladies of the evening?
Where is the young father with the baby carrier on his back?
or the mother herding her enormous go-forth-and-multiply brood
the sullen teenager clutching a skateboard
the elderly couple holding hands as they return to the KOA
the high roller who is secretly
a middle-management operations officer at a cardboard box factory
the alcoholic artist
the Elvis impersonator?

It feels good to get away from what is familiar
to force yourself into a new environment
to think new thoughts in new places,
I muse, as I sit at a table in the ice cream café
recalling the life I left behind
and the faces
and wondering if there is really any difference
as I wait for the rest of the group to arrive
at the Baden-Baden McDonald’s.



We hover throughout dinner
a witty bon mot, a quotation
from the sonnets, a well-told
pelicans skimming the surface
of the water
but never touching it.


Dinah and Me

My cat hates my girlfriend
and the one before her, and the one
before her. She crouches on the carpet
stalking with evil emerald eyes
the usurper who has claimed what is hers,
the attention, the affection,
the lap she warms while I work,
her side of the sofa.

Perhaps this is why they never last.
Who could feel at ease
with the furry wrath
bearing down upon them, the sculpted brow
and sanded tongue, watching, marshaling
her eldritch incantations
to wrest the interloping gluts from
her side of the sofa.

One never hears of Casanova’s cat.
Romeo brought no feline fury to that fateful balcony.

Perhaps it’s not the cat.
Could be the charred chicken piccata I cook
determined that this time I will get it right
or the gold-plated Scrabble set,
the giant portrait of the kids on the hearth,
the Judy Garland records—
or something else entirely.
I prefer to think it’s the cat.

And late at night
when the children are tucked in and sleeping safely
and the house is lonesome with silence
and I have barricaded myself with
a hot cup of green tea, a puzzle,
a book on the bedside,
and the long tendrils of the sycamore tree
scratch at my window pane
I am grateful for the rumbling goddess
keeping watch on my shoulder.


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