February 23, 2011

F.J. Bergmann


He thought of each marriage as a strophe
in the poem of his adult life–those arguments
that ended with a slammed door, or one
or the other of them hanging up the phone, mid-
sentence, as the line breaks; a divorce
as the double carriage return. He was still undecided
about how to handle the trial separations.

The first stanza was the longest of them all (he had
omitted the prior pregnant-high-school-senior
shotgun wedding ending in miscarriage; he did not
consider himself to be an adult at that point;
he did consider himself ill-used). There were several
lines about his first child, too, even though
she was only a daughter, not the son
he finally had, late in the fifth strophe.

The second and fourth stanzas were similar
in structure; they both began with rhyming couplets,
resplendent with delightful adjectives, but shortly
something ominous would appear in the subtext
and emerge as images of futility: a crone laboriously
hauling a wooden bucket from a dry well, snowflakes
silently drowning themselves in a black sea.

Each subsequent strophe grew shorter.
Even his son was not given more than
a single line to celebrate his birth. He told himself
he was becoming more discerning, honing each phrase
to a tight elegance.

The sixth stanza is approaching
its close, he feels, although he may let it continue on
for another line or two;
short ones, abruptly
enjambed. The structural repetition is starting
to seem like a bad idea; perhaps
he should have considered the sonnet form,
something more pastoral, less awkward.

He is less and less confident about the ending
of the poem. He is not looking forward
to it. He had hoped that the last stanza
would close with lengthy, sonorous, dignified lines,
a vindicating summation of his existence.
He is beginning to think it
increasingly unlikely.

from Rattle #22, Winter 2004