Poem of the Week | April 19, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Keep Your Plastic Flowers, I’m Not Dead Yet” by Bryce Berkowitz.

Bryce Berkowitz is the winner of the Austin Film Festival’s AMC TV Pilot Award (2021). He is the author of Bermuda Ferris Wheel, winner of the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award (forthcoming 2022). His writing has appeared in Best New Poets (2017 and 2021), New Poetry from the Midwest (2019), The Missouri Review, The Sewanee Review, and other publications. He teaches at Butler University.


Keep Your Plastic Flowers, I’m Not Dead Yet

I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in over 20 years,
Aside from a couple fries once in Jasto’s car
While on a road trip to a rap battle in Chicago…
In high school, I dreamed about hopping freight trains,
Then downloaded maps and chartered a route west.
I quit playing guitar, started collecting records,
Bought turntables and a pre-amp, chopped breaks
On Acid—the recording program… First time
I freestyled in public was after a bet with Alex—
That I could drink 3 Steel Reserve tallboys in 45 minutes
And not throw-up. I passed out against a tree…
I can still see Ryan and Alex, peddling down the alley
Behind the Comm building, calling my name after I disappeared—
Or as Justin later called those mysterious exits: pulling a Bryce…
It only took 4 years and a pandemic to quit drinking this time.
Now, every day I say goodbye—I harden my knuckles.
Some nights I have this dream where I watch myself
Stand beneath a flickering streetlight. Someone
Hands me a shot. When I take it, a bullet rips
Through my face like a wet hornet’s nest.
The sound in my head is TV static…
My mother’s voice cuts in, says,
Honey, you’re just like me.


Author’s Note

I quit things: cigarettes, coffee, alcohol/substances, meat, watching TV, watching the news, social media… Radical changes, switching trajectories, and starting and stopping makes me regularly examine how my then fits into my now. I quit jobs. Move to new states. Move east. Move west. Move back to the Midwest. At the start of the pandemic, many people drank more. Even before I saw that happen, I decided to quit in March 2020—my third attempt. I broke my lease, moved into a new apartment in a city where I had only lived half a year. I barely knew anybody. It felt like I disappeared. That’s what it means to quit things. You disappear a little—sometimes a lot—and so does the thing you did. But disappearing can be a good thing. My new work is more voice driven and, just like this poem, stems from that strange place of starting over, of building anew.