Detail from Birds Over 5th by Tim Frisch

Monica Berlin

When we turn the calendar’s page, my little boy looking

hard at the sky pressed up against the window, asks,
Where is it? again & again.

Impatience keeps fraying
the gray of each morning to distract him,

to pull him from that frame & back into the room
I’m staring out into, wishing away another month, another

season, these days I’m lucky to have & down on my knees over.
I know what he’s waiting for, what will come & come

so that weeks from now in the longest month, he’ll beg
for the greening as inevitable as everything.

As far away. But first this: this in a flat
in the city, & there, in the east-

facing windows, cars sloshing down Southport, lights wrapped up
each tree, that low rumble I’ll remember all my life

calls up the name of every station, the rise & fall of elevated platforms
I once learned by heart, to pass time or a way. To stave it off

I’d ride, & ride the city to the end of heartbreak, maybe. Another way,
in my ears, with my body. But this day

I’ll help him maneuver his first turnstile,
watch his face in the train’s window as we head underground, & there,

in the city from which I ran & ran away, I’ll understand each thing,
its shape the place holding it—like how a fish grows

to fit the bowl or the pond or the lake or the river.
A fish will. We all will, & do. & so, too, with little boys.

So, too, winter, this day, snow on the shoulders
of our coats, fearless, he’ll stand beside me near the doors, long before

our station, & I’ll show him how to plant his balance
in the lurches, to shift the starts, the stops, the going & going on,

the curves & then: the first time I’d released my hold. How that easing
off of hands made me always want to stand still by the doors of a train

that moves & moves. That urge, always. That letting go.

This Afternoon the Sky’s Making the Kind of Promises It Can

all too well keep, & us? Still leisure-clad in sleep, still bearing

against the worn down of another week spent,
just another & another stretch, another hurdle, this

& another that to check ourselves off against, & my son flops
small against me—though his small no longer so & mine

growing smaller, our bodies more similar these days,
his inching up to me. He says, I can’t think

what to do because my head is full of snow. He says, I can only
think snowsnowsnow.
O, Baby, I think, that’s all

there’ll ever be, that whitening out of every last thing.
My mouth frosted over can’t quite tell this

truth so wide so bare. Although I’m beside him,
I’m distracted by news, again, all the tremors

of the earth that remind me to promise him
everything: no more burying alive of bodies, no more

bodies lost on the roads now covered with snow
or not covered with snow, no more small

heartaches, no more endless ones.
When we flushed his first pet, he wondered if

in the ocean everyone who’d lost or been lost
would be found again. Under all that water?

he asked, a little afraid. He leans today
into my shoulder & I’m making the crossing

to other hemispheres only to find water rising,
buildings caving in, us

on our knees though we no longer remember
words, our breath holding

Please. Our days shrinking, the kilogram, even
planets, everything

we think we know—. How unalterable
shifts & beside me & he’ll be gone.

& maybe, like writing a letter
because you think My god, someone

something, maybe my little boy
tries to right the days, his head full

of snow. To clear a path, he’ll have to
dig out.

If There’s a Joke More Complicated than “Knock-Knock,” More Nuanced

than, “So, a horse walks into...” I’ll miss it, my half-listening, the only way I seem to these days, though what I’m other half-hearing I can’t be sure—maybe something about pockets or how the post office’s dying. Brought to my knees by the brightness, I think, Sky, give me more than a promise of more of this. Think, Sky, show us a future we’ll not want to turn our faces from. Then my little boy & I take to staring at pictures of a Mars so blue we can’t quite believe it & he asks about oceans there, if it’s all water suddenly, he thought it was red. Didn’t we all? Science—all these years—told us otherwise, told us Pluto & then no more Pluto, mapped out giants in the charted stars we accepted on faith, but it’s hard to distrust our eyes that see what we’re sure can only be something we know to name—Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic. So, I look up oceans in outer space to find that a second probe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, discovered dry lakebeds, emptied out river channels, & the name of the man who discovered that moon nearly forgotten—no constellation for him. No memorial. Elsewhere in a galaxy so large my son gets lost just thinking about it, every ocean an ocean of ice, an ocean of magma, an ocean of gas. When I show him those pictures he blinks back, That? He stammers out, But how can the fish live there, in that? How will they swim?

There is No City in My City, Let’s Be

clear: no fresh water in my city-not-city, nothing
but puddle or run-off, & only when streets flood
& everything that’s already worn out can’t work
any harder; no lake or river that isn’t man-made,
though a dam where it rushes; plenty of places
for accidents, all the crossings, too many, &
the blind turns & the endless dark that spreads
so wide it’s hard to believe it’ll ever not be night
again. What I’m trying to say: I keep telling myself
there’s a city under all this ruin—some pulse, something
more than almost. Behind my house, with its sag & buckle,
where the wind drifts in, traffic slows at the hospital
where everyone always seems to be turning in, & the season
grows longer, & all those windows turn dark, staying dark.