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Jeffery Berg – Four Poems

A Dance

Through the slit of the sliding door
I watched you slow dance in your kitchen
to “Margaritaville” in bright red flats.
Your husband held you, cigar in his mouth,
a Cubs hat.  Friends of my mother in a place
of few friends, misplaced Midwest natives
in South Carolina.  Years later, never having
a chance to go back—to see your body
in slow decay—my mother calls to say
you’ve passed. I see you first in a turn
under your husband’s arm to the lyric
that helps me hang on, those red flats
brushing against the brown linoleum,
your floral skirt spinning out.



Faith, your Dad kicked you out
when they found out
you were dating a black guy.
My friend Mark, your brother tells me this
as we go into your bedroom of ceramic masks
on wood paneled walls.  One mask
has whiskers, dons a top hat.
Mark says you’ll never come back.

I go to your closet for your peach prom dress
and I slip it on over my little league T-shirt.
Mark sits shirtless in cutoffs on the edge of the bed
as I kneel in front of him and he smears
Cosmic Pink lipstick on my lips, sprays your perfume
on the back of my neck.  Behind him on the wall
is your poster of a white unicorn leaping.

In the TV room, your Dad watches baseball,
eats peanuts, shells on shirt, he looks up at me,
squints, as Mark asks, Don’t he look just like Faith?

Mark gets his shotgun and we run out
across the yard to the edge of the wood
where we stand and wait for the birds.

I stare at Mark, his gun aimed at the sky.
He says, if he had the chance, he’d shoot
your boyfriend.  I jump at the sound of his gunshot

and we watch
a fallen bird splash into
the upground swimming pool.

I’m too afraid to see it up close.
Mark buries it under the trampoline
where the other birds are.

I kneel in the dirt, caressing the hem of your dress,
imagining a sweet pink glow over your prom night.

I frame this one’s grave with chrysanthemum.


Monument Avenue

In the week of February when the power was cut,
my roommate James disappeared.
I walked in the dark down Monument
with my hands in my coat.
The statue of Maury, glum in bronze,
the globe forever on his back.
His spirit still over the Atlantic.
I thought of James on meth.
His skinny body, his lower back
as he bent to kill a roach with his shoe.
His mind in ruin like a cassette loop
melting on the dash.  Maury came home
to die.  With nowhere else to go,
James came back in October
when the trees of the street
were brown and gold.
The power long restored,
the narrow room aglow.
Uncharted seas between us,
I held him a bit and we broke apart.



Seven years ago we were in the woods
behind Riverside Park wearing nothing.

Moon-lit blue, stars, weeds gnarled
in underwear at my ankles, all of it: temporary.

Tonight, seven years later, the Christian rock band
Lifeforce plays onstage, a red electric guitar

releasing the same three chords as we stand
silent in a building which used to house Showbiz Pizza.

As a six year old, I was there, staring
at life-size puppet mouse Mitzi Mozzarella

in her cheer uniform
with her clacky eyes and robotic moves.

I punched her knees to see if she was alive.
She wasn’t.

The Reverend Jerry Falwell turned Showbiz
into this ice cream parlor for Liberty Fundraisers.

Pizza movie posters replaced with Psalms in frames,
glass flecked with something sticky.

Once you told me we were a secret
to bring to our graves.

Tonight, you’re dead, staring at the stage,
tongue licking strawberry ice cream.  All I want

is to let go of you the way the lead singer
of Lifeforce shoots water from his teeth

on the screaming girl with her hands in the air,
wrists decked in glow-in-the-dark rings.

Out of the fog machine fog: Mitzi Mozzarella
suddenly appears onstage.

Her white sweater labeled with the letter M.
She has her pompoms, green mini-dress,

blonde pigtails, long mouse face, gray
fur legs, permanent wide smile.  Lifeforce stops.

At first she is still with her green eyes clacking
but then, slowly, she walks to the lead singer

drops her pompoms and punches him in the face.
She clocks the drummer over the head with a cymbal.

Some of the crowd begins to scream, running out.
We stand frozen as Mitzi walks towards us.

You hold my hand then, your fingers between
my fingers, her green eyes glaring as she punches me.

I blackout, fall backward, bloody lip.
I open my eyes to you, you are not moon-lit blue

but still, you in the fog, holding me up
against the wall by the bathroom door

marked MEN where you, old friend,
with a paper towel dab my lip.

As you kiss my forehead, we hear the sirens,
I squint at letters piecing themselves together

on the wall behind your buzz cut.
Deliver my soul, O LORD,

from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.


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