Jeffery Berg grew up in Six Mile, South Carolina and Lynchburg, Virginia. He received an MFA from NYU. His poems have appeared in glitterMOB, the Leveler, Court Green, Rove, Map Literary, Assaracus and Harpur Palate, and No, Dear. He has written reviews for The Poetry Project Newsletter and Lambda Literary. A Virginia Center of the Creative Arts fellow, Jeffery lives between Brooklyn and Queens and blogs at jdbrecords.
Strange was the
dream out of
dry on the rocks
a torso of plaster
in gray booty shorts
a red-lit bar
of wrap-around booths
an Armani trench the
blue highway ride
to a birchwood house
a room of white
carpet and pink heat
untie my trench
take away my purse
cacti and us
behind glass-ribbed walls
you call me faggot
retarded unable to
upside down you hang
me and then I ask
How much farther are we to go?
From my apartment, now bare in Brooklyn, once full of
music, trash-picked furniture and sloppy sex,
I box up books to send to my grandmother.
It’s mid-afternoon, rainy out, my laptop open to Psycho—
Marion Crane’s last drive: fingers on the dimpled wheel,
wipers with the strings like the knife-slashings that will do her in. Her
Ford, bought in the sun on a lot at Luxhall in Bakersfield,
that will end up pulled out of a swamp behind Bates Motel.
My mom believes my grandmother started going downhill when
my uncle took her car away. Then she was isolated, a shut-in,
a monthly Martha Stewart Living in the mailbox
close friends elderly and dying, downspouts stolen, a strange man
knocking atthe back door early in the morning.
A house can trap you, windows staring as you walk up to it,
as you enter, unprepared for the knife-wield of a bun-wigged night-gowned man. I click
on pics of shirtless men, all pouty and spray-tanned.
Where will they end up? Against their will? I want to go
willfully to a room that looks like Hopper’s “Sun in an Empty Room.” In
1997, on a trip to L.A., from the back of my friend’s minivan,
I wanted to remember everything outside—to take it all in with a camcorder—
I don’t know where the tape ended up, or how I could play it, or if
I did, how I could watch it—a choppy, migraine-inducer.
In a neon green T shirt and black Adidas shorts, I sat in the sun
in a trolley as it rounded the corner and I recorded the Bates house
on the Universal lot. A sense of promise then that now feels
eroded. Later tonight when I talk to my grandmother,
she says thank you for sending more books, that she loved the last ones,
especially the one about the Jew who escaped the Kishinev pogrom.
She says, although what’s the point anymore,
I mean, really, of getting involved with all of these stories?
After hanging up, I picture the bitter night in Lemont, the trees bare, the
little gazebo out her window that no one sits in.
I make myself larger. I make myself small.
My pleasure points shift. Militant, then
soft. No surprise my first dress-up was Alice.
A flour-sack towel fashioned like a pinafore.
A desire for black ankle-strap shoes that lingers
more quietly thirty-odd years later in the Wal-Mart
aisle. In most imaginations—her dress blue. Something
irksome about imagination exclamation point, the Mary Jane
nonsense and the optics—piping tea kettles, gaudy,
big-hatted fashion—now slightly Hot Topic. The title of the song
“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” from what Stevie Nicks
in Victorian dress-up at 5 AM said to the songwriter.
Something eerie about seeing Alice morphing into
a life-sized frosted sheetcake, uneasily I watched
beneath the den table. It’s all me in the spin—Alice,
an easy, well-trodded analogy to the logic of dreams.
An easy one to fashion into the logic of poetry. “There is magic
all around you, if I do say so myself,” Stevie sings—done-up
in platinum curls and red lipstick, windfan-blown satin
in “Rooms on Fire.” Someone’s divorce anthem: I picture
a coke-fueled woman blasting it and singing it
in a black car, driving through mountains at dusk—the sky
pink like Alice’s cheeks where my beard grows, pink
like the flamingo erect as a croquet mallet. Carroll uneasy
around growing adults. Somewhere in the back
of my mind I was free in the swirl of synth pedals and the snow
of dogwood petals—I make myself larger, I make myself small,
there is the dream life and the life that I know.
Walking a different route, I listen to
“He blew his mind out in a
car.” At the intersection, a
motorcycle cuts through the
almost hits me. I stand, shaken as
it blazes the empty street
in the bluish fog. At work,
the computer offers invoices, friends
I sometimes see, news
of flood victims, sunlit black
cars bubbling out of dark
water, a gif
of Grimace, purple and smiling,
with YOU’RE SO SEXY
written in glitter beside him.
I think of tagging this to a
I’ll never love. Walking back home,
the sky goes pink. Red lights
of police cars, a huddle
staring into the street.
a sitcom star with an iced coffee,
a girlfriend under his shoulder.
Some of the huddle begins to
turn, to take pictures with their
phones of him instead of what
in the middle of the road they
were capturing before: black
metallic bits, a motorcycle
smashed—laying on its side, some blood
on the road, a footless