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About this poet

Bernadette Mayer was born on May 12, 1945, in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BA from the New School for Social Research in 1967.

She is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including: Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 2008), Scarlet Tanager (2005), Two Haloed Mourners: Poems (1998), Proper Name and Other Stories (1996), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), The Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), Sonnets (1989), Midwinter Day (1982), The Golden Book of Words (1978), and Ceremony Latin (1964).

From 1967 to 1969, Mayer and conceptual artist Vito Acconci edited the journal 0 TO 9. With her husband, writer and publisher Lewis Warsh, she edited United Artists Press. She has taught writing workshops at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York City for many years and she served as the Poetry Project's director during the 1980s. Bernadette Mayer lives in East Nassau, New York.

Midwinter Day [Excerpt]

Bernadette Mayer, 1945
I write this love as all transition
As if I'm in instinctual flight,
                                    a small lady bug
With only two black dots on its back
Climbs like a blind turtle on my pen
And begins to drink ink in the light
                                             of tradition
We're allowed to crowd love in
Like a significant myth
                              resting still on paper
I remember being bitten by a spider
It was like feeling what they call
                                          the life of the mind
Stinging my thigh like Dante
                                     this guilty beetle
Is a frightening thing
When it shows its wings
And leaps like the story of a woman who
                                                     once in this house
Said the world was like a madhouse
                                              cold winds blowing
And life looks like some malignant disease,
Viewed from the heights of reason
Which I don't believe in
                              I know the place
Taken by tradition is like superstition
And even what they call the
Literary leaves less for love
                                    I know
The world is straight ice
I know backwards the grief of life like chance
                                                          if I can say that
I can say easily I know you
                                    like the progression
From memory to what they call freedom
Or reason
             though it's not reason at all
It's an ideal like anarchism though it's not an ideal
It's a kind of time that has flown away from causes
Or gotten loose from them, pried loose
Or used them up, gotten away
                                       no one knows why
Nothing happens
There is no reason, there's no dream
                                               it's not inherited
Like peace but it's not peace
                                     there's no beginning
Like religion but it is not God
It's more like middle age or humor
Without elucidation
                         like greeting-card verse
This love is a recognized occasion
I know you like I know my times
As if I were God and gave you birth
                                               if I can say that
I can say I am Ra who drew from himself
To give birth to Geb and Nut, Isis and Osiris
Though it isn't decorous today to say this
                                                     instead I say
You are the resource for my sense of decorum
Knowing you as Ra knew the great of magic, 
His imaginary wife, 
                         and without recourse to love
Men and women are like tears
                                       I would lose my memory, 
I would sleep twelve hours, I would wake up
And get into my boat with my scribe,
I would study the twelve hours of the day
Spending an hour in each
                                 I would have a secret name
I would rush upon the guilty without pity
Till the goddess of my eye in her vengeance
Overwhelmed my own rage
                                    as you and I take turns 
In love's anger like the royal children
Born every morning to die that night
                                                I know you speak
And are as suddenly forgiven, 
It's the consequence of love' having no cause
Then we wonder what we can say
                                            I can say
I turn formally to love to spend the day,
To you to form the night as what I know, 
An image of love allows what I can't say,
Sun's lost in the window and love is below
Love is the same and does not keep that name
I keep that name and I am not the same
A shadow of ice exchanges the color of light,
Love's figure to begin the absent night.

From Midwinter Day. Copyright © 1982 by Bernadette Mayer. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

From Midwinter Day. Copyright © 1982 by Bernadette Mayer. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Bernadette Mayer

Bernadette Mayer

Bernadette Mayer is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including: Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 2008). 

by this poet

poem
song birds take a bath in our elephant pool
turtles don't come to our turtle yet
sunflower cytology apprehend the weeds in our garden
cytologies you mean & well there's poison ivy
as in drew barrymore or
dream creatures knocking at the window
threatening to kill you on a snowy road
and now the luna moth
poem
I saw a great teapot
I wanted to get you this stupendous
100% cotton royal blue and black checked shirt,
There was a red and black striped one too
Then I saw these boots at a place called Chuckles
They laced up to about two inches above your ankles
All leather and in red, black or purple
It was hard to have no
poem
First turn to me after a shower,
you come inside me sideways as always

in the morning you ask me to be on top of you,
then we take a nap, we’re late for school

you arrive at night inspired and drunk,
there is no reason for our clothes

we take a bath and lie down facing each other,
then later we turn over,