Poems of the Week – David Berman


Community College in the Rain

Announcement: All pupils named Doug.
Please come to the lounge on Concourse K.

Please join us for coffee and remarks.

Dougs: We cannot come. We are injured by golf cleats.

Announcement: Today we will discuss the energy in a wing
and something about first basemen.

Ribs will be served in the cafeteria.

Pep Club: We will rally against golf cleats today.
The rally will be held behind the gymnasium.

There is a Model T in the parking lot with its lights on.

Dougs: We are dying in the nurse’s office.
When she passes before the window, she looks like a bride.

Karen (whispers): We are ranking the great shipwrecks.

Announcement: In the classroom filled with dishwater light,

Share your thoughts on public sculpture.

All: O Dougs, where are you?

Dougs: In the wild hotels of the sea.

Imagining Defeat

She woke me up at dawn,
her suitcase like a little brown dog at her heels.

I sat up and looked out the window
at the snow falling in the stand of blackjack trees.

A bus ticket in her hand.

Then she brought something black up to her mouth,
a plum I thought, but it was an asthma inhaler.

I reached under the bed for my menthols
and she asked if I ever thought of cancer.

Yes, I said, but always as a tree way up ahead
in the distance where it doesn’t matter.

And I suppose a dead soul must look back at that tree,
so far behind his wagon where it also doesn’t matter

except as a memory of rest or water.

Though to believe any of that, I thought,
you have to accept the premise

that she woke me up at all.

Narrated by a Committee

The enameled moon
rode over the long cool world
as we stepped outside to get some air.

Birds from other area codes
sang their Precambrian songs,

the light pulse of the seminary
faded in the wax trees,

and we, the committee, strolled around
talking about the burden of inheritance tax
and the elegance of watering cans.

We walked between Hill 49 and Hill 50,
then over the old river,
which was slow and thin for miles,
before it disappeared underground.

At the park’s wild core,
where lamp posts frontier the old dark,
we saw fountains remaking themselves
over and over again,

we saw the night leaking out of the western doors
and discussed returning to the committee room,
to the oak chairs, ice water and gavels

when the sound of snapping branches
made us turn to see
the caribou crossing the Nikon.

* all poems from Actual Air, Open City Books, 1999.

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