James Bertolino: Making Space For Our Living

Copyright © 1975 by James Bertolino
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

For permission to reprint, contact the author at jim@jamesbertolino.com

for Lois


The Spoon
On a Line by Charles Simic
A Photograph
Dance of Guilt
Towards Peace
Across Nebraska
Where We Go from Here
Now the Wind
Of Sunlight
The Balancing
Blood Rite
Spring Roads
The Presence
Her Knees
The Adequacy
A Mother's Song


Lines for a Workday
Sexist Pig Makes Good
The Green Eraser
Fertile Grass
Amongst Buttons
Where's the Salt?
Kitchen Vision Event
Black Bread
Alone on Yellow Lake
The March
The Crusade
Lost Poltergeist
The Dolphins
Jigging the Astral Body
The Space That Has No Negative
An Order of Event
The Arc
You Will Meditate
Entry: 0637 The Orion Notebooks


The Spoon

Someone in the Main Office
did you in.

Someone in the dead elm.

Now all day the aluminum spoon chirps
in the knapsack.
It's time you left this place.

On a Line by Charles Simic

This table is a cup
he lifts,
a receptacle of
weights & measures/

Without it he cannot
his own hands from
the ink a printer mixes
with water

the right proportions
or lines
will grey-out
in the poem
                   He knows

the yellow cake
he likes
the chocolate frosting rich
with butter
    his mouth knows
than tablespoons
of shortening, & flour/
cups of it

his wife's
               Till with his hand he cups

her chin, lifts
to mix
her mouth with his

This woman is the table
of his life

A Photograph

This poem is a photograph
to save Lois
in her floor-length dress asleep
on the bed
with the kitten, Julep &
Brandy, the mother
on the floor

her dress is red
& the candle
in the kitchen
the pork-chop bones &
apple skins
on the greasy plates

the sauterne bottle
in the dim light from the dining room
casts a green
across the table

                         outside the window limbs

& branches
with the wind

Dance of Guilt

A robin working
the fresh --
cut lawn
in front of the Oldsmobile
on the gravel drive

a worm
with its beak &
takes half
          flies off
the rest for its
or young

the hopped-up Chevy
swerving up
over the
curb down
burning rubber away to
the tow-head kid on a skateboard

brings back the red
& brown
the tail
on the freeway
the long brown
chocolate-point Siamese


To the chittering
small huddle of
warm fur
that didn't make it across the freeway

I leave the hard-bound journal
I never wrote in

Towards Peace

To begin he remembers green
Iowa hills
speckled orange
with Tiger Lilies,
land his mind stretched, hands
trembling with
the wheel,
road breathing beneath.

The cracks repeat the names of love.

A flock of farm pigeons
breaks above
the windshield, now joins in
the mirror, pulling
to the new sun
the last
of the suffocating Iowa night.

Across Nebraska

Driving across Nebraska
my wife pulls into a Rest
Area to
hit me . she hits me

It is she claims
for all those times
I should
have hit her &

A bruise along my forearm a purple

I bite her ear-
between her breaths
a blade

aeons old

Where We Go From Here

Evil dogs us

We desire that this be beautiful
that we

go beyond the chill fringe

flesh glistens our
minds flood

We have stalked time
to whirl upon

to create
for this moment
one scent of hyacinth

over the hills

Now the Wind

Indian Paintbrush
in the cool
their slim engines

Mountain freshets enunciate your name

Your life long
a tethered dream has
beneath your shoulders

& now the wind knots
your muscles
to its heart

& sunlight sucks dry
your blame

Of Sunlight

Heavy scent of spring grass
passing below


& she behind me warm
to my back
our buttocks bare to the horse's flesh

No cities
no dream
we are this naked beast
making space for our living in these hills

We move
unto each other
& are the syllables of sunlight



A rainbow
about our heads
on this butte,
the stone
with lichens

Birds buffet in flight
with our eyelids

A lone sheep
an odor
over the rocks
pulls roots from our blood
with its teeth

& ruminating
we dissolve

The Balancing

Peach blossoms drowsy
in their curves
dark branches
like teeth

Floating, the slight
of the wings, cool
on your cheek, the hummingbird's
tiny bill slips deep
for the fluid

Tall grass dancing, sun
off fox fur
the young rabbit jerks
as the entrails pull free

Early evening a warm bath

Night approaching
a curtain of tongues

Blood Rite

Flesh traps
this winter mettle


too late
to protect
the roost

the fox
blood of white chickens
frothing behind its eyes

feathers new snow
over the hill

Spring Roads

This is Idaho.
Drive through 16 miles of
muddy, pot-holey spring roads
to this frozen lake,
pine-cloaked basin
below the mountain.

Is this God's country?
Is that Him up there, lonely
on man-fragile skis
cutting slow zigs
down the slope?
There's somebody up on that mountain!

No. The deep black eyes
of empty oil drums
say no. There's
no one.
This is Idaho.

The Presence

in the damp


with death


I trace
with my pen
a seven

someone else
has written
& wonder

seven wives
or children
or geese

seven billiard
or clues

or seven
graceful ways
to die?

Her Knees

It is her pale
going to water I love

when I say her father
has died
& there is hope for us

The Adequacy

To father, who asked,
I say we've gathered these years
to learn the adequacy
of caprice.

Our lives follow the goat

& this vitality is as much of horror
as we deserve.

We will be responsible.
Where there is beauty
there is not defeat.

Between tribe & estrangement
we sink into the grasses
with the horses feeding
& brushing the flies away.

We hold for some moments
what will never change.

A Mother's Song

There is something
in you, active
as a transistor
buried below the hills
of Duluth.

Who could love you
if they knew?

Who would stay
in the same room?

Survival is not beautiful.

The evil of a child
is delicious
& continues.
Pungent. Thick.

Your movements are shaped
by the basic forms
of death.
You rehearse
with each breath.

Your genius kills
like a deer
& is your best.

This is glory.
This is home.

You're welcome here.


A young woman is lying naked
on the sand.
Her clear eyes beckon
the sky.
Like a gem revolved slowly in the sun
her thoughts make love
to light.
Pleasure hovers over the beach
like prayer.


Lines for a Workday

Mrs. Place
& Mrs. Place's sister
Mrs. Smith
make rugs.
Rag rugs.

There's more to this.

& Mary's man-
friend Gary
weave & build
& feed the dogs.

Joy is willed.

Lois steers the Craft Shop
& rocks her husband's
boat -- he cracks
his cradle leer & bails
the water in.

Her tie-dye treads his calm.
His poems make her swim.

Sexist Pig Makes Good

Crossing quickly
with no grace
the summer courtyard torn
by machines
for improvement

the fat girl smiles
toward his window
                              the peaches
in her basket
nudging each other with her steps

She means to tell him
she too has scented fur
beneath her belly

& his bed would be a kindness
she could forgive

The peaches are bruised
& she is not beautiful

but they make good
in the world
this morning

The Green Eraser

Squat rectangle rounded
at the corners

smudged black with rubbings
makes time
to be

To touch its strange surface
my time grows

The thought I leave

till snakes of soft rubber
writhe off


our time

Fertile Grass

Dip your pains
in yellow paint

Sell daisies on street corners

Kiss her before it's
she'll spend the night with you

Are we together?
Don't mistake the moment
for Nature

Fertile grass

The deserved joy
of brooks

Isn't this a party

& when we try, it's simple to go
into daylight


You dare intrude
This land is
A brave man needs
Your woman is a trip
    to the beer tent
Piecemeal & warm
Her firm globes bespeak learning
Breed for God
From a grassy knoll
Correspondence with an orangutan
May the best man grin
    till he becomes the epileptic
    in the first row
Keep tracking
The whisper
    between oak root
    & rock
Becomes a third party

Amongst Buttons

A milky translucent oval
she clutches between
her lips. Downy. "Cough"
he said.
       the sunlight lazy through gauze curtains.
A passion without dust.

"Sew me to your trousers."

Whalebone. Shell. Do fake pearls
make the best buttons
for white blouses?
Deep red
of polished wood
like tiny overturned bowls
the swollen nipples.

"Sew me to your mouth."

Where's the Salt?

Who left the green umbrella
in 305?
Who filled the ashtray
with damp oats?
Some young lady is humming
toward marriage,
her cautious petals
still pressed
between her Bible.
Now three angels of metal
bring gusts
to the classroom.
Three angels of musk.
We must sing praise
to the fields, praise to the fickle hammers
pinging in our ears.
We must touch those petals,
must soften & swell
with our lips.
Then she will whisper "thank you,
thank you for this."
The glow of her face
will lift like radar, will rise
with pleasure
between the columns
of rain.

Kitchen Vision Event

The cat's tail
with tiny particles of digested Kal-Kan beef

beats time
with my jaw-knuckles

while my wife's
keep slipping

into song

Black Bread

In a song about Welfare
I see my children
by the thousands
as tiny bubbles in fresh bread.

Each chimes its own shiny note.

I would like to eat your music, I say,
& do.

Alone on Yellow Lake

A 43-year-old sturgeon pokes fun
at my pink heels.
I've mastered the secret
of water I say,
the one we call "buoyancy".
He giggles through his spongey gills.

As I drift lower I notice
the absence of flies
& a delightful increase in humidity.
A subtle purring reaches
my ears, "sweet".

The March

It's the unruly dogs
in the audience, she sighed,
& we knew it to be the truth.

In a kind of pastel exasperation
we settled back to watch
the seasonal march of the PhD's,
the swamp water rushing in
over the tops of their waders.

Not even the bloodhounds follow them there!

It's time we got hold
of a parts manual, & a set
of Japanese tools -- there's something wrong
with the applause.

The Crusade

We left the hooters
on the bus. No telling how fast
they might go on foot.

"Up the rpm's!"

We could still hear them,
though we were separated by miles
of rancid pork.
The trail-boss was a re-cap,
the cook a cop.

At last, as we six gathered around
the counter-sunk urn
weighting missiles of spittle with phlegm,
the hungry blonde whispered
"I am the one
who got the red bean."

Her faith had won.

Lost Poltergeist

We still
the rocking motion
the brain depends on
the heart

We bring patience
from within

The sense of novelty
which fools the lungs
to breath

Come home dear Priscilla
we need your hunger

The dance the parson wept for you
has come to right

We call our nights the Parson Dance

We call your novelty
to make the little spin
we feel within a certainty

Strung through
The pivot comes loose

We quick behind the glaze

The Dolphins

Across the city
of Tiahuanaco
across ttme
my cipher seeks you

who've spent the sacred
Mayan nights
editing the Bible
who predicted correctly
the Book of Aluminum found on Mars

when are you coming home?

The children grow lonely
& down my dreams
the scarred dolphins shriek.

Jigging the Astral Body

We are the assassins
of consensus.
Our laughing drags behind
the shards of life's coherence. Do unto
other realities.
Do unto your wife.

An awkward surge in the sentence purifies
this hesitation's interface.

Our quickening length
the immaculate
forgives death our passage,
& the moody region's terrorists.

Here our sex glances
like an off-rhyme

jigging the astral body.

The Space That Has No Negative

Evanescent, she said. It's you,
lying on the couch, your naked limbs
illuminating the room. You are
sleeping, & with each slow breath
arises the body taking you away. Now,
below me, what is left of this world
enters me & stays. We are single &
together, what we have that touches
holds continuous & warm in a basin.

Reason is no enemy -- too cold & weak,
it incites no fear. Here all movement bends
toward center, & our delicious stasis
tugs out & spreads. This is the space that has
no negative, that owns all &
earns each moment our freedom. A sphere
recording its future as it grows.

An Order of Event

Just beginning now an
order of event
reverses separate movements to this new & simple
dance -- a knitting,
a fabric of limbs,
night warms at the heart of our whirling.

Light now, it's light we
emit, & this
energy the center of the universe.

The Arc

A certain amount of room to cross

the galaxy
recording us & our


the holes
our coins make

smaller the

arc of egg shell the minds kin

You Will Meditate

The pubic fur longs to be flesh

to know
the unsettling

Laughing pierces the durable
& is itself

You will meditate
for velocity

You will be The Astronaut

Entry: 0637
The Orion Notebooks
& at the center
like a crystal fist
we discovered the gland
the universe

About the author:

James Bertolino was born in Wisconsin in 1942, and presently serves on the faculty at the University of Cincinnati.


We gratefully acknowledge the magazines where some of these poems first appeared: Apple, Ark River Review, Bartleby's Review, Copperhead, Crazy Horse, Dacotah Territory, Doones, The Dragonfly, Folio, Foxfire, Granite, Greenfield Review, Hearse, Measure, Minnesota Review, The Penny Dreadful, Poetry NOW, Quetzal, Quixote, Rainy Day, Road Apple Review, Seizure, Stinktree, Transition, Wind, Wisconsin Review, Zahir

Special thanks to:

Centrum Foundation, Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend, Washington, where Copper Canyon is Press-in-Residence; and, for a grant which in part made possible the publication of this book, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

Library of Congress cataloging in publication data:

Bertolino, James, 1942 -
Making space for our living.

I. Title.
PS3552.E79M3 811'.5'4 75-14276
ISBN 0-914742-08-6

Copper Canyon Press
Box 271
Port Townsend, Washington 98368
1000 copies designed & printed by Sam Hamill & Tree Swenson from handset Centaur type at Copperhead & perfect bound by Northwest Bookbinding, Portland.

Cover design by Tree Swenson.

26 copies clothbound; 12 copies bound in quarter leather by Annie & John Hansen, The Watermark, Indianola, Washington, and signed by the poet.

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