F.J. Bergmann

Home | The Last Issue | Submissions | Achieve: 2004-2009 | Essays

is mostly from Wisconsin. She is to blame for madpoetry.org, a local poetry website, as well as her own site, fibitz.com, and others. She has had work in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Margie, the North American Review, nth position, Southern Poetry Review, and on asininepoetry.com under the pseudonym Easter Cathay. Her manuscript Sauce Robert was a co-winner in the 2003 Pavement Saw Press chapbook competition. In 2004, her poem "Wall" won the Pauline Ellis Prose Poetry Prize. Her hairstyle is deceptive.

Poetry Tasting

I thought I’d have a potluck poetry party, just an intimate little soirée for the big names in the industry; you know, the people who really matter. So I spread out a lavish buffet of poetic literature: we’d nibble on delightful small magazines, browse through a chapbook like a bowl of nuts for cracking, slowly chew each stringy stanza of an ancient epic, dine heavily on thick anthologies, enjoy creampuffs of light verse.

Limerick crudités, decorative haiku sushi, crisp sonnets spread with shrimp paste, and garlic cocktail-cracker cinquains nudged pretty little quatrains arranged in rows of petits fours. Small, dense poems glowered like wedges of hard cheese, with a high pronoun content. The sour criticisms were unfortunately not vine-ripened.

Gradually the guests began arriving and added their contributions to the banquet table. A poem whose author was never identified had a crusty, golden exterior, but the adjectives were awfully runny and exuded a strong odor of Ammoniacal cruelty. There was a clear Frosted punch, laced with bitters. 

Anne Carson brought a superb spicy red-meat dish from the Mediterranean-Peruvian takeaway down the street, but H.D.’s hand-me-down Graeco-Egyptian recipe was disappointing, for all its authenticity. Williams ate every one of his ice-cold plums himself,and then absconded with Campion’s ripe cherries. Wallace Stevens baked a thirteen-blackbird pie.

Eric Basso’s smoked viscera of puzzling deep-sea creatures swimming in hot black brine made everyone’s eyes water, as much as we enjoyed them. Charles Webb favored us with a lengthy dissection of his liver à l’orange. Nobody had the nerve to sample Emerson’ ominous version of Rocky Road: hemlock-cyanide sherbet studded with semi-precious stones and small beetles.

Don Paterson contributed a covered tureen of Victorian china painted with a railroad train  steaming through a slum. It contained a videotape of a drowning kitten. Yeats roasted a rough beast with the body of a lion—but no one touched its blackened, thorn-crowned head.

e.e. cummings’ scattered black minuscules skittered all over the tablecloth, some of them struggling to free themselves from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ towering white cathedral of sculpted lard, which eventually melted to drown Housman’s pale floral arrangement.

I had made a point of of omitting De La Mare from the guest list, but he found out about the festivities somehow. Fortunately, someone spotted him trotting up the drive, and we hastily turned out the lights  and hid until he gave up banging on the door and went away. Emily left early, in a carriage, with some guy in a red mask.

Finally Francis Thompson’s overly-determined Hound and Eliot’s too-friendly Dog knocked the table over, chasing Christopher Smart‘s Jeoffry, and the party went downhill from there. Coleridge and Ginsberg passed out against the sideboard after sharing a pipe.

Louis MacNiece and Omar and Baudelaire stayed late into the night, finishing off the last few bottles of red wine.

As the road nears the entrance to an industrial park, the traffic light turns red, and stays that way. The woman in the car next to mine has one pudgy arm draped over the steering wheel; with the other hand she is feeding herself marshmallows, the big ones, as fast as she can, not even bothering to chew. I can't imagine where she is finding room to put them all until I look up at the factory smokestack and see them squeeze out, one after the other, huge cylindrical white puffs. Clearly, no one has considered the environmental impact.

Prairie Queen

The day is already hot when we begin walking and the wind comes in warmer and more humid with each invisible wave that creates the shuddering ripple of uncut grass, the nictitating Morse of caught rubbish. We will signal back in the language of smoke. You can see further now than in a month or two, when the tall grasses come into their own, and the prairie turns rainbow with coneflower, thistle, chicory, aster and goldenrod. Go three hundred years in any direction you care to name, and look as far as you like and see nothing but forest. When you turn over a coyote skull, the thick white web of a black widow spider lurks in the left forebrain cavity. That silk is harvested, carefully, for the crosshairs of gunsights. Someday soon the air will turn yellow as pollen and darken with the threat of tornadoes; after the rain, small lavender butterflies will crystallize on the edge of each evanescent puddle. Their wings breathe and no one knows where they go.  If I leave the path with you and lie down and do not move, the grasses are already tall enough to conceal me until winter comes and strips everything down to its skeletal truths. By then I will have sunk far into the past where, from the hollow of a bison scapula, I lap scopolamine tea. When they ask, you have never known me.
---First printed in Sauce Robert (Pavement Saw Press, 2003)


My neighbor said he thought he'd build a wall; wanted to know if I'd go halves on it. I asked him what he was going to make it out of and he said "Words," and I said I'd help him out as much as I could. I asked him how high he was going to make it and he said "High."

He started out with long, Latinate words, at least five syllables, carefully staggering the joints, but he ran out of his own almost right away, so I had to give up a lot of mine. He tried to maintain a structured form, but soon it degenerated into a random jumble, mostly nouns and verbs—he was saving the adjectives to decorate it when it was finished, he said, stacking them neatly against the porch. The articles and conjunctions kept falling out and accumulated in forlorn drifts at its base.

He worked on it every evening, after coming home from his regular job, until night fell, late into the autumn. Joggers would occasionally stop to offer advice and put in a word or two. It spread like a blackthorn hedge above its massive foundation, tangling tightly as the barbed serifs hooked together. The wind whistled through the small openings of the a's and e's as the larger counters of the o's, b's, d's, p's, and q's resonated at a lower pitch. He placed the sharpest words along the top of the wall. "Expect trouble," he said.

During the winter, the ascenders and descenders began to distort and twine around letters in adjoining words. Just before the solstice, I hung the most ornate plural nouns and third-person-singular verbs I could find on the north side of the wall. Dangling from each terminal s, they swung like bells, chiming as the snows fell. That spring, suffixes sprouted from the side that faced the sun.
---First printed in Wisconsin Academy Review

Language Barrier

I used to be ashamed of not being in touch with popular culture. It was humiliating, like wearing the wrong clothes—I did that too. Of course, I was a teenager then, when these things matter. I felt like an onlooker at an unknown game at a sports stadium in a foreign country, just sitting there in the stands, feeling uncomfortable. It’s not very exciting. The players move across the turf at forty-five degree angles and apologize when they run into each other. The crowd starts to roar a slogan in a language I can’t understand, chanting the same eight syllables over and over, with a rising inflection. Some of them are beginning to stand up on their seats, brandishing weapons. Any minute now, the fans are going to riot. But fortunately one of the men on the sidelines, wearing a green velvet bathrobe, grabs one of the little spotted goats I had assumed to be mascots, drags it struggling onto the field as a hush falls over the crowd, and eviscerates it on a spot roughly corresponding to the 40-yard line. On the scoreboard, the numbers are replaced by an asterisk followed by a greater-than sign for one team, an octothorp and ampersand for the other. The crowd goes wild. Some well-prepared individuals are chaining themselves together across the exits.
---First Printed in Beloit Poetry Journal