Four poems from 2022 Passager Poetry Contest Winner David Bergman.
The 2022 Passager Poet is David Bergman. David said, “Writing poetry is no less difficult now that I am in my seventies than it was when I was in high school, but it is more exciting since I am freer from fear and outside expectations. Now I write for the pleasure that poetry gives me.”
Here’s his poem “Finding You Later”
(on the publication of I’ll Miss You Later, poems of James W. Gaynor)
Written under the pressure of terror
and the urgency of death’s elusive truth,
these poems packed away for forty years
inside a spiral notebook you never thought
would see the light are glowing in my hands
evidence of the grace that terror gives
our hastiest expression and a music
to which even the dead rise up and sing.
Jim, I knew you before and after AIDS,
not during – thankfully not during – for then
we were too full of fear and grief to give
each other anything more than silence.
Thank you for keeping these words safe until
I could see you as you now were then.
“Finding You Later,” 2022 Passager Poet David Bergman. David said, “I want to write as if in a world in which the words were free of everything but the need to be honest, simple, and beautiful.” Here’s his poem “Waiting Entrance.”
I wake in the middle of the night
to the front door pounding.
I run downstairs
as fast as I can,
which these days is not so fast.
Still I don’t even bother
to cover myself with a robe.
For who knows
it could be my neighbor
whose child’s run off
with a local hoodlum.
Or maybe it’s the cranky man
across the street,
who waking up to pee,
finds on the kitchen floor
the outstretched body
of his wife or grandson.
Or maybe it’s a stranger
trying to escape
a knife-wielding madman
in hot pursuit.
It’s all possible.
I’ve watched the local news.
I read the bulletins
popping up on my smartphone.
But when I finally
open the door,
there’s no one there, nothing
but a warm breeze
my jockey shorts.
Yet I’m far too jumpy
to go back to bed.
Say good-bye to sleep, David.
You’re stuck doing vigil now.
Something has wanted you,
and you have been slow
to give it welcome.
God of Hosts, where
do the unattended go?
The things still waiting
to be greeted and helped?
“Waiting Entrance.” David Bergman said, “As a gay man who has fathered no children, I sometimes wonder about the children I didn’t have, those possibilities I turned away from. What would those children be like?” Here’s his poem “Kindertotenlieder.”
We are the unfathered children of your brain.
Do not fear us. We are not angry
that you never made us flesh. It is enough
that we have been on your mind.
Do not cry, papa, for we are not sad.
Your house is filled with your family.
Your dogs, no longer alive,
protect us still from danger.
We have eighteen acres to roam free
and enough food to keep us always hungry.
There is more music than we can ever hear,
from the crickets singing to the storms at night.
Unlike you, we do not grow tired or older.
The ones in diapers stay in diapers.
Those old enough to learn by heart
the multiplication tables
ready themselves for the tests to come.
And those like you, awkward, heavy, dim,
who watch the dark for signs portentous
and incomprehensible, laugh
as you rush out beneath the streetlight.
For you will never leave us.
You love us too much. And if you left
we would follow behind, a motley crew –
some who can only crawl, some who just
have learned to ride their bikes,
others so barely formed that big girls must
carry them like the mothers they never had.
“Kindertotenlieder,” David Bergman. He said he’d been reading about orphans in the Syrian civil war, and how the older children try to be parents to their younger siblings. He said he associates the title “Kindertotenlieder” with the Holocaust.
One more poem by 2022 Passager Poet David Bergman, “The Last Sleep.”
Of sleep’s many episodes,
the last one is the best,
the one that brings refreshment,
if refreshment comes at all.
It does not pull me down
into the dark depths of dreams
where eyeless fish make their hobbled way,
where I painfully break
into wakefulness and effort.
Unlike sleep’s early episodes,
the last one does not insist
that I relive the final exam
for the class I never attended
or defend myself against
the enemy who’s found my hiding place.
No, the last sleep is the best sleep
because it wraps me in dreams
through whose thin walls I hear
the unmelodious rattle of the day
and feel, like a leaf, the dawn’s swift
occupation of the sky.
“The Last Sleep.” David Bergman.
To buy the 2022 Poetry Contest issue that features David Bergman’s work, to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com. You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts and various other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.