Poem of the Week | October 17, 2016

This week, we are excited to present a new poem by Erica Bernheim. Bernheim grew up in Ohio and Italy. She holds degrees from Miami University, the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently Associate Professor of English at Florida Southern College, where she directs the creative writing program. Her first full-length collection, The Mimic Sea, was published by 42 Miles Press (Indiana University South Bend) in 2012. She is also the author of a chapbook, Between the Room and the City (H_NGM_N B__KS 2007). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, the Iowa Review, and Cutbank.
Author’s note:

I wrote this poem because of two other events which happened around the same time, but not at the same moment: I was reading Mary Gaitskill’s novel Veronica and I was in an accident last winter with my parents in my car. “Rear-ended” is my attempt at that devastatingly flat voice Gaitskill uses, one which makes it possible to say the most outrageously terrible things about people and places without breaking the reflective surface of the narrative: “The endless beautiful rooms inside the songs—wander through them long enough and their beauty and endlessness become horrible. There is so much, you always want more, so you keep moving, traveling ever more quickly, until you can’t stop.”




She is spreading butter on bread that is untoasted.
This is a way of being involved in the world.
If the bread had been toasted, its consumption
would seem and feel normal, a way of requiring


no extra connection to the world or thoughts
about it, no reliance on the self to overcome,
to persevere. Butter on untoasted soft bread,
the undeniable decadence of that yellow grease:


milkmaids and farmhouses, buckets of cream
carried by husky lads whose overalls provide
their bodies something else to support and do.
She is navigating the bread with a dull knife.


It reminds her of being rear-ended in a car,
navigating that space without breaking the
membrane of its surface, without changing
the form of bread via the butter. Integrity


is not the right word for it. This is how she
wants to move: across the surface of something
more substantial, so much so that its solidity
causes her to become a better, more palpable


version of herself: what is worse than too much
butter? What is more delicious than just the right
amount, or even slightly too little, something that
hints at desire, guiding quietly the four linchpins


of coherence. When the silver BMW hit them from
behind on that interstate, the moment happened more
quickly than the accident, but the digestion and con-
sumption are the parts that will take longer, how she


will imagine the accident later, her father’s unrestrained
body crashing against hers, the slick surfaces of their
speeding bodies, integrity tested, partially failed, partially
remaining, the crust of the damaged slice like the side


fender on the car flapping like a sting ray all the way
back to her small, cold apartment in a large, warm
building. Later, when she and her parents were
there again, the sounds her father made while eating


soup and the bread were too loud and horrifying in their
gratitude. She is trying to think of that word one uses
after a dream in which the most bizarre things seem normal:
eating a dog, hundreds of skinless skewers, currents growing


stronger as they’re forced into tight spaces. Recovering
from the accident will not be the event they expect. One
of them puts hands on her breasts. Neither of them is ready
to be themselves again. Every morning after, someone will


ask her if she has healed yet. Each of them is neither again.
It seemed very natural, obscene, and loud the way she fell.
Each of them is always inside the cold room of that moment,
making soup from a can, the sweetest thing you ever saw.