Four Poems by April Bernard

BOMB 37 Fall 1991
037 Fall 1991
​Shirley Kaneda 01

Shirley Kaneda, The Commands of Desire (detail), 1991, oil on canvas, 48 x 42 inches.

Little Melody Psalm

If you like what you saw, then, why close your eyes?
To see in, see yourself, whom you already know?
Since you loved what you tasted—once more, part your lips
To take in, take me in, and so compass my stain.

Saint Paul once took a ride, on the old carousel
How he bounced, up and down,
But that wearied him soon as well

Can we be new to these climes, to these fires and storms?

Slow, but slow, trees return, grass redresses burnt ground.
Dearest love, take this note, where it sits like an egg
On my tongue, sing it loud through the chilly dusk.
Saint Paul ran to the church, he was hunting for men
Raised his rifle to fire—
Those he killed, he said, would get married again


Psalm of the Witness

That one I have seen, yes that one,
Crawl across the tiles in craven posture
Begging the crust from my mouth, I have seen him so fat
And yet so hungry. And so I gave to him.

Once a yellow hand reached through my dress.
Nails gouged my breast, he was not yet weaned.
Sometimes it takes a long time to stand back up.

He spoke against the earth itself, he spat upon the ground.
He beat his dick against a wall, he howled like a drum.
That one I have seen,
Walking away with a gesture to dismiss.

Another has been here, I remember him.
Butterflies like kisses flew about my face
But ice devoured my legs, seized me, sealed my door.

Masters of the huddle, all of you, I have seen.
Mine eyes have seen.


Prose Psalm of the Explanation-Dwellers

See, here’s how it is, there’s two different ways we look
at the world
Man sees a woman, he thinks, What could I do to her, and it doesn’t
seem mysterious, he knows already pretty well
what he can and can’t do, so it’s a matter of aesthetics:
Like, do I like a big ass? the man will say.
Like, do I prefer dark meat near the bone?
And then it’s a matter of finesse, and luck, but all along
he knew what he was going to do and how it was going to feel.
Now, with women, see. A woman sees a man, she might think,
Ah, fine profile. She might look lower and wonder,
what lurks down there? But experience has told here that none of this
looking, shopping, examining labels will ever tell her
what he can do.
And what he can do tells her what she can do.
So it’s a mystery always,
and also makes her more charitable. Because maybe the guy
with the sled-dog eyes and the cauliflower nose, maybe he’s
got a long sweet one that won’t quit, maybe he can make her
sing the Ave Maria, who knows?

No, no. I have another explanation. Please, listen. There is
only so much love in the world, and it got used up by our ancestors.
So it’s like recirculated air in a sick building, see?
Filled with the disease and the sadness and the lust that went on
before, all this petrific honey thick with dirt,
sap from ancient hives, legs and wings and striped abdomens
that once throbbed but now are stilled in amber hard and golden
but unlikely to melt in the damp of your mouth.


Psalm of Those in Need

Frost sifts against the hay, another turn in the year
The lights tonight hold cold spears, their tears shattered into ice

A small mystery, that this is what I need: someone to tell me
where to put my hands, where to put my mouth

What is that whining, like frost beneath the door?
The seventeenth sermon of the Patriarch Photios

The larger mystery, that this is what you need: someone to tell,
speechless in attendance upon your lament, how amazing

That we let these things happen, that armour is shed
and drops glittering to the ground at Caesar’s feet

Oh do not trouble to be a god on earth, when all falls like
                     legions of tin;
Quizás, quizás, you are more than what you dream

April Bernard is the author of a book of poems, Blackbird Bye Bye, and a novel, Pirate Jenny.

Piero by Gabriella De Ferrari

Originally published in

BOMB 37, Fall 1991

Featuring interviews with Nan Goldin, Elizabeth LeCompte, Robert Duvall, P.M. Dawn, Jane Wilson, Louis Edwards, Craig Coleman, James Chance, Hal Hartley, and Constance Congdon.

Read the issue
037 Fall 1991