Erica Bernheim was born in 1974 in New Jersey, and grew up in Ohio and Italy. She holds a BA from Miami University of Ohio and an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems have appeared in 26, The Black Warrior Review, Bridge, The Canary, Gulf Coast, Volt, and other journals. Currently, she teaches literature and creative writing in the Chicago area, and is a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Like a Face
by Erica Bernheim

Any tale of spontaneous human combustion
must take place in the South. History’s wagon carries
me in its horrible mouth of an entryway. An arrow
relies on less, taste this, rising from the swollen
finger raised to measure air’s currents.
The girl allergic to water battles for aquagenics.
Sweat, blood, saliva and tears blister her skin.
She bends her head for the most dangerous of kisses.
She drinks whole milk and is allergic to her
own body. She will dream of swimming and touching
snow. Her lips feel as close and sharp as razors, the light
explodes, and you surrender your addiction to No-Doz.
Something in breath dies slowly, a fern, a stilted horseman,
a moon seen in daytime, or this harvest gone rotten badly.
How long will you stay in this mess, waiting to learn
when to duck, when it’s safe to run: a plate of eyelashes,
a walk on water, nothing more. Loving days.
A maze with no entrance, and we strain to see
it anyhow. I find myself on the wrong side of your
affections, afflictions, you say, and suddenly these are
sidelines. I tell stories so often, I don’t remember the event,
signs written in languages I never learned to read.
What I told you made no difference, lighthouse, philosopher,
my sleep. Oh, but it trickles down the side of
a bed I never meant to lie in. Say something
about the state of dedication. What I wish for you
is nothing but fraud and petulance, camphor in
your proceedings, a brick in your mailbox, a wicked
bitter woman stealing your truck. I hope you can
believe this is not about you. You wake up
to find you’ve been tying your shoes with a dead man’s
hand. You try to build a fire beneath a chimney
with no flue.

reprinted from Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century with permission from Sarabande Books.