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Amy Gerstler

Amy Gerstler received her BA in psychology from Pitzer College in 1978 and her MFA in nonfiction from Bennington College in 2000.

Her books of poetry include Scattered at Sea (Penguin, 2015), which was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award; Dearest Creature (Penguin, 2009); and Medicine (Penguin, 2000), which was finalist for the Phi Beta Kappa Poetry Award.

Gerstler is the author of art reviews, books reviews, fiction, and various journal articles. She also collaborates with visual artists, and her writing has been published in numerous exhibition catalogs.

Gerstler has taught at Antioch University, Bennington Writing Seminars program at Bennington College, and at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She currently teaches in the MFA creative writing program at University of California at Irvine. She lives in Los Angeles, California.


Selected Bibliography

Scattered at Sea (Penguin, 2015)
Dearest Creature (Penguin, 2009)
Ghost Girl (Penguin, 2004)
Medicine (Penguin, 2000)
Crown of Weeds (Penguin, 1997)
Nerve Storm (Penguin, 1995)
Bitter Angel (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1990)
The True Bride (Lapis Press, 1986)

By This Poet

5

Hymn to the Neck

Tamed by starched collars or looped by the noose,
all hail the stem that holds up the frail cranial buttercup.
The neck throbs with dread of the guillotine's kiss, while
the silly, bracelet-craving wrists chafe in their handcuffs.
Your one and only neck, home to glottis, tonsils,
and many other highly specialized pieces of meat, 
is covered with stubble. Three mornings ago, undeserving
sinner though she is, yours truly got to watch you shave
in the bath. Soap matted your chest hair. A clouded 
hand mirror reflected a piece of your cheek. Vapor
rose all around like spirit-infested mist in some fabled
rainforest. The throat is the road. Speech is its pilgrim. 
Something pulses visibly in your neck as the words
hand me a towel flower from your mouth.

Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup

Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.

Dear Reader,

Through what precinct of life’s forest are you hiking at this                 moment?
Are you kicking up leaf litter or stabbed by brambles?
Of what stuff are you made? Gossamer or chain mail?
Are you, as reputed, marvelously empty? Or invisibly ever-                   present,
even as this missive is typed? Have you been to Easter Island?             Yes?
Then I’m jealous. Do you use a tongue depressor as bookmark?
Are you reading this at an indecent hour by flashlight?
Plenty of scholarly ink has been spilt praising readers like                     yourself,
who risk radical dismantling, or being unmasked, by rappelling
deep into sentences. Your trigger warnings could be triggered             every
second, yet you forge on, mystic syllables detonating in your               head,
the metal-edged smell of monsoon-downpour on hot asphalt
raising steam in your imagination. You hold out for the phrase
with which the soul resonates, am I right? Reading, you’re                   seized
by tingly feelings, a rustling in the brain, winds that tickle your           scalp,
bubbles erupting from a blow hole at the back of your neck.
You forget the breathy woman talking softly on TV across the           lobby
(via TiVo you’ve saved her for later.) Birds outside are cracking           jokes
and cackling. Reader, smile to yourself, rock the cradle, kiss
everyone you wish to kiss, and please keep reading. It beats
fielding threatening phone calls for $15 an hour which is what
yours truly is meant to be doing right now, instead of                            speculating
on the strange and happy manifestations of, you, dear reader,            you.