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Poet's Choice: 'The Going' by April Bernard

By April Bernard
Sunday, July 12, 2009

This is the first poem of my new book, "Romanticism." It marks the start of a journey, a difficult but not a hopeless one.

I was standing in front of my kitchen window, looking north (not east) at the Vermont mountains and drying dishes with a fraying cotton (not holland) cloth, when A the phrase came to me: "God and love are real, but very far away." I had bought the fabric (of many more colors than just blue and yellow) in Amsterdam more than a decade ago. I had never made it into a skirt; I cut and sewed the cloth into dish towels so I could handle it often, until it dissolved from use.

Significantly, I had made that visit to Amsterdam at a time of personal crisis. The impulse to travel, to run away from trouble, is one I know well. At the moment captured in this poem, I had been planning a trip to Istanbul. But news reports of a terrorist bombing had been filling the papers, and since I had a young son, no one thought I should travel in the Mideast. I reluctantly agreed. I think I also unconsciously feared, as the poem makes explicit, that if I ran away to exotic lands, I might never come back to the responsibilities of my life as a mother. But the aloneness that the poem explores does not get solved by travel, at least not of the outward variety.

(Editor's note: To see this poem laid out correctly on paper or on your screen, click the Print button in the Toolbox. To hear April Bernard reading this poem, listen to the Book World podcast.)

The Going

The cloth edge of certainty

has shredded down to this:

God and love are real,

but very far away.

If I go to Istanbul, will I return?

That is not one of the permitted questions.

When I go to Istanbul, how will I bear to return?

I could slip into the small streets

that lead away from the souk, then run east

to the high plain and the Caucasus --

.

It's all alone, the returning,

the going. The cloth,

a soft holland whose blocks of blue and lemon

once cheered me in a skirt,

now dries dishes. God and love

are very far away, farther even

than the mountains in the east.

April Bernard's new collection, "Romanticism," has just been published by Norton. She is also the author of three previous poetry collections. She teaches at the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars and is director of creative writing at Skidmore College.

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