Documentary Studies

by Erin Bertram

Excerpt from Relief Map:


From a cushioned window seat at 35,000 feet, all attempts at
ordering the feral world appear earnest, halfway generous,
successful even—latticework of roadways, soft halo of
streetlights, green & gold reaches of field, bridges like the
backbones of megafauna, the cool geometry of community—
the wash of it, through cloudwork, laced with quiet, varnish
over daily living things, scene removed just enough—just still
enough—to call out in me some sad, sexless desire to press
my cheek up against it all.



What makes the Nebraska sky a pool of blue into which you
might fall is gratitude—grief, its opposite, its shadow-equal—
that somehow, this time, & not without requisite bruises that
change color daily, you’ve made it through. So when you
speak—in the grocery line, in the classroom, in bed, under
your breath—say thank you, hello, my god like you mean it.
The way one horse bows its muzzle into another’s stringy
mane, nuzzles stubble on lip & chin, up & down, up & down,
along the other’s broad velvet neck.



Beauty is, at its core, consolation, says the famed essay. And
isn’t that true, isn’t that how we want the story to go. Watch
the sky burn off its color. Feel the air drain down. Close your
eyes. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Can’t you see, I’m
trying to be both present & absent at the same time. Like a
blur of flies, photographed, printed on transparencies, layered,
one over the other, & the flies disappear.

University & College Poetry Prizes Page