Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Particulate Matter Was in the Air

I've found all sorts of things down here. Most of them cannot be shared at present. But the poems, which previously evaded my efforts to retroactively tag entries, are suitable for semi-public consumption:
Eeerie Lackawanna

It's like this more often
than not. I know where
the book is. There's a
picture of it on the shelf

inside my mind. Yes, it
needs dusting. But the map
works with or without a
matte finish. When I go

there, though, the place
is a shadow. If I wanted
room for something new I
would be delighted. "There!"

It's different to remember
what was there before.
Line endings. A refusal
to speed up. Blank truth

that speaks louder than
ornament. I know it's
no accident that she picked
your essay to read, before

the news. She used to dream
of high water. And there it
would be, lapping the
concrete next to her morning

jog. I made her go once,
to hear you, despite
the buttoned-up setting.
"It could be our last

chance." I'm glad, really,
even if it sounds
morbid now. Anyway,
this should have been

a reading. But I can't
find the words, only
their spot on the shelf.
The shadow knows.


I'd blame the water
but we live in a desert.
Wind, then, eroding
the space between who
we are and what we
are. There's no place
left to sit. Subtlety
has become dust,
fine-grained like the
landscape we have
forgotten, replete with
possibility. Now it has
hardened into act.
The remainder penetrates
our breath. The sun
drinks. We cough, hold
hands over our eyes.
There's nothing left
to see, is there?

Open, Close

for Julian Boyd

This is the month of dead fathers.
I reach my hand into the bag
of darkness, linger on the blue
velvet as I fumble for details

because I need something to
hold fast. Roast beef sandwiches,
getting bus-sick on Interstate 80
as I flipped through my reader,

light-green, the cover torn. Your
scrawl, coarsened by the copier,
reminding me how little I know. Let
me ride past the refineries of

memory. One day I drove out to
Richmond to help Robin Goodbeer,
her basement perfumed with reality.
You showed her Hamlet's problem

was an excess of whiteness. We
dream of leaving the body but
it's our blood that makes us sing.
Before I heard the news I walked

back and forth in a bookstore,
restless until I spotted the Confessions.
Chapter 11. Bankruptcy of the limbs,
then lungs and liver. The ideas

remain solvent. Why did Nick
like opening cans? Because
that way he always came full
circle. You identified. A

windswept North of the mind.
Always trying to narrow
the point. And then you realized
it was gone. Clear water

is a lie. You know what you
want but not what you lack.
The real man heads for the
swamp. Louisiana. The

Depression. A mother soaking
up liquor. Nick never got
there. But you did. The fishing
may be harder, but it's a lot more

honest. Slowly you retrieved
the words you had lost,
repairing the broken links
between them with baling wire,

your fingers, voice wrapping
over and under until they held,
precarious. Ten minutes later
you had to do it all over. Some

rituals are worth repeating. I
remember when I first felt
you circling back through
me. I knew German. You

remembered. Phrases float
to the foamy surface, bumping
into water-logged things. The
truth conditions on counter-

factual subjunctives. If I had
called your house, we would
have had a halting conversation.
If we had walked up that hill

behind the music building, we
could have talked forever. Maybe
that's the lesson. You have to be
there. I see you reaching out

to punctuate a point, feel
the way your grip clamped onto my
shoulder, always longer and
stronger than I expected. How

the sight of that orange
Karman Ghia lured a story
out of its paper-walled hiding
place. If it's philosophy

of action, where are the
action verbs? This is pure
passion. I love you and
you can no longer love

me back. When the little
circle, perpendicular,
bites into the big one,
it leaves a metalled furrow.

Endlessly you opened
them. Cans. Shoulds.
Musts. My lid is off
now. The liquid sloshes

over the edges. It might
spill on the floor, make
a puddle to tramp through.
I will never forget.


The next big thing already
has a tear in it. You can see
some ass. Still, there's charm
in a failure to take cover.

Mayday, Almost May Day

There's something to be said
for a poem you can translate
without a dictionary. So let
me say it: I'll take a lover
in boxer shorts over one
dolled up in satin or, yes,
even latex any day of the
week. Sometimes the most
necessary beauties are
those that are comfortable
in their curves, soft-sided
testament to the absence of
fiction. Spring is here!


The fish floats on its side, crumpled
in the corner of the tank. I worry
that it's finally dead, walking closer
until I see the slightest movement.
"Hi fish," is greeted with a flip or
a flop. Sometimes I sing. And
then I toss in more bloodworms,
steering them numbly toward
the edge. I feed the problem, pretend

I'm serving up a cure. For a long
time the fish sought shelter in the
volcano, its back wedged up inside
the hollow so tightly that you had
to look hard to even see it. But
now it's always out, steady
reminder that, even if we're not
dead yet, we will be. I wait.

I watch. There was a flick of the
tail a minute ago, though as I write
this the beaten blue form floats
lifelessly, full of a life that won't
go gently into the toilet or the
backyard, wherever we deposit
our losses. I know it's wrong

of me to make everything into a
sign: the clock on the bedroom
wall that's been reading 7:50
for months, the blood that's dripping
down inside us, whether bruise
or blot, the way each coupling
feels more frantic than the one
before it. Something is rising.

I can see it. It's waiting to be
plucked from the water, dark
harvest of the reality we only
pretend to overlook. The other
day she wanted kumquats,
explained, "They're sour, sweet,
and bitter at the same time."

The difficult part is remembering
to let them linger on the tongue.
You have to wait for it. Too soon
and it's murder. Too late and you're
spending hours looking at a dead
fish. Melancholy means the space
between, staring at the moment.
I'm doing my best not to blink.
I remember writing these poems, but I didn't think they all came in the same month. The crazy thing is that I was doing a ton of writing in my Moleskine at the same time and doing a piece for Tikkun. It was a very productive time, strange as that may seem in retrospect.
Tags: autobiography, nostalgia, poetry

  • Redefining Need

    "Can a society which is incapable of protecting individual privacy even within one's four walls rightfully claim that it respects the individual and…

  • Trump the I

  • Weekend Update

    I frequently feel like writing something longer and sometimes writing it here. Unfortunately, my windows of opportunity these days are five minutes…

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.