Bernadette Mayer Poems

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Failures in Infinitives

why am i doing this? Failure
to keep my work in order so as
to be able to find things
to paint the house
to earn enough money to live on
to reorganize the house so as
to be able to paint the house &
to be able to find things and
earn enough money so as
to be able to put books together
to publish works and books
to have time
to answer mail & phone calls
to wash the windows
to make the kitchen better to work in
to have the money to buy a simple radio
to listen to while working in the kitchen
to know enough to do grownups work in the world
to transcend my attitude
to an enforced poverty
to be able to expect my checks
to arrive on time in the mail
to not always expect that they will not
to forget my mother's attitudes on humility or
to continue
to assume them without suffering
to forget how my mother taunted my father
about money, my sister about i cant say it
failure to forget mother and father enough
to be older, to forget them
to forget my obsessive uncle
to remember them some other way
to remember their bigotry accurately
to cease to dream about lions which always is
to dream about them, I put my hand in the lion's mouth
to assuage its anger, this is not a failure
to notice that's how they were; failure
to repot the plants
to be neat
to create & maintain clear surfaces
to let a couch or a chair be a place for sitting down
and not a table
to let a table be a place for eating & not a desk
to listen to more popular music
to learn the lyrics
to not need money so as
to be able to write all the time
to not have to pay rent, con ed or telephone bills
to forget parents' and uncle's early deaths so as
to be free of expecting care; failure
to love objects
to find them valuable in any way; failure
to preserve objects
to buy them and
to now let them fall by the wayside; failure
to think of poems as objects
to think of the body as an object; failure
to believe; failure
to know nothing; failure
to know everything; failure
to remember how to spell failure; failure
to believe the dictionary & that there is anything
to teach; failure
to teach properly; failure
to believe in teaching
to just think that everybody knows everything
which is not my failure; I know everyone does; failure
to see not everyone believes this knowing and
to think we cannot last till the success of knowing
to wash all the dishes only takes ten minutes
to write a thousand poems in an hour
to do an epic, open the unwashed window
to let in you know who and
to spirit thoughts and poems away from concerns
to just let us know, we will
to paint your ceilings & walls for free

The Tragic Condition of the Statue of Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

We Eat Out Together

My heart is a fancy place
Where giant reddish-purple cauliflowers
& white ones in French & English are outside
Waiting to welcome you to a boat
Over the low black river for a big dinner
There's alot of choice among the foods
Even a tortured lamb served in pieces
En croute on a plate so hot as a rack
Of clouds blown over the cold filthy river
We are entitled to see anytime while we
Use the tablecovers to love each other
Publicly dishing out imitative luxuries
To show off poetry's extreme generosity
Then home in the heart of a big limousine

Midwinter Day [excerpt]

I write this love as all transition
As if I'm in instinctual flight,
a small lady bug

[Sonnet] You jerk you didn't call me up

You jerk you didn't call me up
I haven't seen you in so long
You probably have a fucking tan
& besides that instead of making love tonight
You're drinking your parents to the airport
I'm through with you bourgeois boys
All you ever do is go back to ancestral comforts
Only money can get—even Catullus was rich but

Nowadays you guys settle for a couch
By a soporific color cable t.v. set
Instead of any arc of love, no wonder
The G.I. Joe team blows it every other time

Wake up! It's the middle of the night
You can either make love or die at the hands of the Cobra Commander


for: max and alyssa
malyyssax worelish
tomorrow we'll see the lightbulb in schenectady,
go to gems farms in schodack, then on to howe caverns,
then to see the wayne thiebaud show at the clark
where we'll stop to notice the melting ice sculpture
then excellent spinach sap soup at the thai restaurant
in williamstown, a brief stop at the octagonal museum,
on to northampton to see the smith college art museum
& greenhouse where we'll see a green heron

it would be nice to be able to walk today
so we could go to opus 40 in saugerties
followed by a dinner of oysters & mussels at the bear
then on to check out the sheep at the sheepherding inn
where we're able to buy riccotta cheese
which means twice-baked, with which we're able
to make a pizza with fresh figs gotten from the berry farm
war what is it good for?
absolutely nothing

Very Strong February

A man and a woman pretend to be white ice
Three men at the lavender door are closed in by the storm
With strong prejudice and money to buy the green pines
One weekend fisherman and blue painters watch
The vivid violet winds blow visibility from the mountain
Beyond the black valley. That means or then you know
You're in a big cloud of it, it's brilliant white mid-February
A week or two left on distracting black trees
Before the brownish buds obscure your view of the valley again.

Looking for company four dark men and a burnt sienna woman
Come in for three minutes, then bye-bye like a gold watch left on the
Or part of the sum of what big white families think up
To store for long yellow Sundays to eat for brown ecological
At some point later gorgeous red adventure stops, did you forget
To turn it down and laugh in the face of the fearful white storm
Or picture it brilliant blue for a further Sunday memory
In a coloring book, you talk as lightly as you can
Refusing a big pink kiss, you burned the Sunday sauce
Of crushed red tomatoes, you turn it down to just an orange glow.
This particular storm, considering the pause and the greenish thaw before it
Reminds me in its mildness of imitating a sea-green memory that is
In the future, I imitate an imagined trumpet sound
Or the brilliant purple words of a man or woman I haven't met yet
Or perhaps it's a grey-haired man I already know who said some-
thing yesterday
To a mutual friend who will give me the whole story in black and
white tomorrow
Or the day after, just as the big orange plows for the local businesses
Go to work to push away the rest of the white snow that will fall

The Way to Keep Going in Antarctica

Be strong Bernadette
Nobody will ever know
I came here for a reason
Perhaps there is a life here
Of not being afraid of your own heart beating
Do not be afraid of your own heart beating
Look at very small things with your eyes
& stay warm
Nothing outside can cure you but everything's outside
There is great shame for the world in knowing
You may have gone this far
Perhaps this is why you love the presence of other people so much
Perhaps this is why you wait so impatiently
You have nothing more to teach
Until there is no more panic at the knowledge of your own real existence
& then only special childish laughter to be shown
& no more lies no more
Not to find you no
More coming back & more returning
Southern journey
Small things & not my own debris
Something to fight against
& we are all very fluent about ourselves
Our own ideas of food, a Wild sauce
There's not much point in its being over: but we do not speak them:
I had written: 'the man who sewed his soles back on his feet'
And then I panicked most at the sound of what the wind could do
to me
if I crawled back to the house, two feet give no position, if
the branches cracked over my head & their threatening me, if I
covered my face with beer & sweated till you returned
If I suffered what else could I do


abide with me
don't ever abide
gimme anytime a pile
of leaf-hay across
the field underneath
the bright new blue
tractor pulling the tedder
which is the waffler or fluffer


To range in the war was corruption, an error, a snow.
A snow over Rome. Near the garage to sew and to
sing — a crystal, inherent, and a wink to the
To range in the Roman manner was to manage it raw.
The seagoer pressed by the woman in arson. The manager,
waiting, and in the distance, at least, was wrong.
He had played it too near and announced in answers.
A changing is shown.
A personal letter is addressed to the seagoer. Now the
rangers warn to swear. A reminder grows. The
manner of the answer is warmer.
The ram, the swarm and the wren, Ramon and Sergei, all
Is the seagoer Negro? Arms is the song when the women
are meaner. And the mason is worse. As the snow
nears, the green grocer is warned. The owner of
the organ remains behind. As in Rome, we wear
sweaters to visit the gorge.
But the woman rose to her wager. Now swear in the arms.
The groan means saner, the arrow warm.

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