Bernadette Mayer was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. She received her B.A.
from the New School for Social Research in 1967. She is the author of numerous
books of poetry and prose, including: Two Haloed Mourners: Poems (Granary
Books, 1998), Proper Name and Other Stories (1996), The Desires of Mothers to Please
Others in Letters
(1994), The Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), Sonnets (1989), The
Golden Book of Words
(1978) and Ceremony Latin (1964). With the writer and
publisher, Lewis Warsh, she edited United Artists Press. She has taught writing
workshops at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in New York City for many
years and she served as the Poetry Project's director during the 1980s.

On the road to what we're tempted to call heaven

because of the way the light falls
in shafts between trees
at evening
there's a tree that falls
between the double trunks
of a tree divided
like a siamese twin
do you think somebody made
the one tree fall between the two
in that way?
it's not in a place
where anyone or thing
is striving for effect
it's hard not to think of the cleft
of the often double-growing trees
now filled with a daring accident
as some human thing
if not a message or road-marker
then a man and woman
as blatant as a flag
in a thunderstorm in a forest
much less the whole family circle
at a fire within
under those weirdly joined trees
the spotted dots from a distance
of two million little things
and beings moist and adept
at everything smaller
than the dots that trees seem
to be made of from further away
like the wet plaid shirt
of yours
hanging on the arm
of the prideful 19th century chair
there's no heaven after all
though there is rain
after all this time without it
paradise is like a stapler nowadays
it's just something or anything
you know of forget about perfection
it's hell-bent on raining from the heavens
so an accident will happen
perhaps a tree will fall on the cabin
or lightning will strike the refrigerator's
incinerator & set the place afire
with lightning balls dancing
on the floors and walls

it's raining good for the corn
and pitter patter good for the children
and good for the clouds to get it going
the little mellow flower's grateful
so are the sun-bathing raspberries
and the ducks and geese
the rooster must be glad of the rain
and some of the Yankees
are happy for it
the day lilies are closed
they don't even know about the rain
the yellow lilies are closed up too
a lot of children are asleep,
sleeping to the sound of rain
moths stay away from the rain
snakes adore the rain
grownup human beings can
entertain the rain
in either heaven or hell
the paper the curtains become limp
straight hair turns to
massive curls sweet tight curls
less wavy than predicting
some rain for the needless buttercups
some for the man down the road
who seems dry and old
some for the machines
which were working too well
some for the cactus elsewhere
some for the lake to make it colder

I'm of two parts
between which falls the rain
by accident like a place to be
the breasts the balls
the penis the vagina
the house a shelter
in which cooking happens
to feed everyone in it
all of whom go in & out the door
off & on & regularly
to sleep at night or often
to rest from either
the flags & dangers
or the exertions or pleasures
of everyday life, 1950-1990
not a time to be dismissed
by poets as insignificant
even if you can't
move or love
because of the way
things are
much less speak
for everyone
every day
as if poetry
were history

I'm not being bitten
by heaven or by hell by god
but by the no-god's rain on the world
that my friends the moths hate
& so they stay away
old poets
so few & far between
leave so soon as visitors
without waiting for either the rain
or most of the fun
I go up to my room
if I have one
assuming the feel or sound of the rain
could be heaven
as if there was one
but I'd rather wonder how come
no such perfection
or knowledge of everything
from the beginning of the day
or the beginning of history
or the histories of everyone
beginning to end
or no end could be

mother father
what good were you
I prefer the vision
of the parts of the trunks of trees
I have out my window
apparently they're leafless
as you adoring us
might fall on the stone steps up here
or down them out of fear
of walking
in a downward direction
mother father
if you're not dead
go to bed
make love all night
I won't
if you don't I will
when you begin again
I'll stop
& you'll be me
when I won't love anybody
just like you or anyone
fall down on your knees Bernadette
in sorrow for the things you say
beg forgiveness bet on the horses
you might win 37 thousand dollars
if you know one & bet one good
if not you will in sorrow be tomorrow
still a person who met with the rain
remembered it badly
& fell with quite a thrust
or else unnoticed
into a good & bad bed
all too often as often as you thought might soften heaven
to be one

heaven I must tell you
at least from what I know
is an abandoned camp
named by white people
after Indian words
there's nobody living in it
it's overgrown
with raspberries

on the road to it
the road becomes disused
the trees are bigger
the light is both brighter
& less bright
& in the space between the tire tracks
where cars used to drive
tiny strawberries have sprouted up
the road becomes progressively
more & more lined with
wild berries growing
till you get to a field
overwhelmed with things to eat
if you know what they are
& in spaces there are buildings
low & in disuse

if you dare to walk into
the sunny parts of heaven
you will hear a buzz so loud
as to make you think
knee-deep in unknown flowers already
you'll die right away
of the juices & bites
of other things living
but if you advance without fear
& look up often
not at the sky but at the milkweeds
& tamest elderberries
against the view of
the equally ardent thorns & bees
you might wind up
falling in the delicious hole
which speaks to you then
& ever after: it says
go home
and let it rain on the roos
because you have a home
or house, cabin or apartment
or tent, cave, dwelling or shelter

it says it's impossible to end
among known beauty this world
of drudgery & greed even the jewelweed
seems nasty, it connotes the necklace
that encircles the hidden esophagus
of a woman-servant-ornament born rich

if an aster falls over my page
it's only because I'm privileged
to have a bouquet
& when I walk in beauty
like the night I defy you
not to mourn
we can't even write
have no power
there's no fine American no more
nothing left but
a danger to everyone
worse than any empire
all greed
machines & bombs for everyone
destruction for all

nobody knows
when they go to bed
how little anymore
they're part of the world
everybody thinks all the time
because they know it
all about everything

then permit us let's say
to know everything
mothers & fathers
if you must be, take note
instruct your children
in this way:
world members
no heaven
just visions
& everything

what a mess
if I can only sleep
it's raining
remembering everything
they might
wake up
in a great thunderstorm
of little consequence
but memory of the heavens
which ain't heaven
just a mess of clouds
up beyond some tree or building
you can't afford to live in
heaven's no cabin
& no cabin's no heaven
but let it be cramped
in all heavens
permitting accidental bursting
I think I'm going to bed
to die
not far from now
Father give me five
for I know not what I do
what else is new

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