Anna Bernstein is a writer, historical research assistant, and copy editor
from Brooklyn (USA). Her work has been published in Reed Magazine,
Dunes Review, Lascaux Review, and Carve, is upcoming in Cream City
, and has been given an International Publication Award from
Atlanta Review and a Pushcart Prize nomination from Concho River
. When she is not busy typing the word "review," she likes to
read about animal behavior.

Search Party

The forest neglected to take
this one apart, its larger
spheres rejected by
foxes, grown over with
ferns, sunken parts
that were once soft left
to fill with rainwater
like bowls; although
here and there a rodent
took an eye, the tongue,
hollowed a bone. Tendons
were picked like worms. Still,
the structure held, somewhere,
we hoped. We hunted
and watched, wailed by
creeks, exhausted our
lights, moved forward and fell
back from rutted
ground. The waiting was a
lodestone on our temples,
then our wrists, then,
monstrously, began
to turn bearable. We started
to notice how beautiful
the light in groves, take
breaths to inspect lichen
under which could hide
only beetles. The body's
shape itself became strange
to us, like a fountain we might
come upon with unknown
properties, or the stunning
figure of a sleeping bear.
The body, unheard,
cradled itself, cracked
its neck upward into the
wind. Most days we
began to stay home
and tell ourselves
we were busy seeding
prayers. We used to have
dreams of the returning
like a triumph, now
by necessity horrors
full of moss. When it finds
a way back, as it will,
it will waltz and
wave, prance at the
door like a dog
wanting to be let in.
But we've long lost
the search, given up
to bog and scrim, and we
know really why it came
for us this way, its
appetite whetted
by the wood.

The Devil Sings to the Burden

You learn early on
that the devil is a birthmark
on your calf. You talk to him.
About playbooks, gritty beaches,
a coffee table full of slick books
in someone else's home,
the things you should do,
or not do, of your many
loves. He leaves you,
eventually, fading to a
rhubarb wound, so you
find him elsewhere.
You learn that the devil
is a paycheck, a sore
back, a spreading palm, a mural
that lets no light in. The devil
is a good man, a bad song, a
you. Your blood. Your leaky
eyes that need to be seen.
Your dragging feet that must be
kept pace with. How can you
keep singing this song?
Metal, wood, wire. The spires of
forts that your grandfather fought
from, you fighting from your
own cowardly heart. Your
spurts of starting, of almost being
fine. The playbooks now forgotten,
no beads in sight. The devil is a man you love
who tells you what a burden you are.
Brings the missive to you
like an old friend. You feel a beating
in your calf that calls you home
to the silent bed of a lake. You sink easily.
You've known this really all your life,
the way it leaves you, and yet still rests
in the bottoms of your feet:
the devil is a shallow pool of water
just deep enough to drown in.

Pre-Syncope at a Gallery

Women take stances, their backs pressed against
the crushed wings of flies, thick ochre, hematite, roots,
mummy-mud, the ash-waste burn of bone
the determination of the composer, the spaces
he leaves among trees. There is no time to shift. The
balls of their feet are the hardest points of gravity
in the whole entire world. There are men who might sit
with elbows resting phantom weights
on sides of chairs, so as to bring a hand up
to a thin mustache; so as to finger the dark valleys
of fabric below their necks,
lean back to tusk-blackened shadows,
buckles at their ankles, a skull beside them
for a father's death. All that
is frail as paint. As hog bristles
lifting in clear air.

And across museum patrons
those white-bellied women, some of them
mere boys, are watched; and the
bright boys watched
and the women watched
do not need to be told
that their entire souls
are draining down
through one toe, balanced on in a dance,
one strained ankle,
one rolled side of a heel
hard-packed with blood.

They could tell you already
that their world
is as light
as the flies of its birth
while the ground underneath them
is the broadest, flattest knife they know.

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