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Poetry: Bernice Mennis

Writing Contest home

Bernice Mennis, Fort Ann NY
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers
Runner up in Category: Poetry Age 21+

To Live By The Sea

I have been thinking what it means to live
by the sea. The small wooden row boat moving
early in the dark blue dawn. The men in orange or black
slickers. The cold Maine waters. The lobsters held in
wooden crates. Rough and heavy ropes pulled into the sea and out.

Farmers, too, before dawn, thick jacketed in mist.
Cows heavy with milk. The ground black, the plowing in.
Hands cold against metal wheels.
And always wind and sky.

In Maine I stare out at houses perched
along the shoreline. Waterfront property hardly lived
in most of the year. Far removed
from those who fish the seas. How often are they lit
from within?

I think, I would like to live in those houses
that watch the sun moving on the waters
and hear the waters moving in and out
like one's own breath in the dark and quiet house.
I think, I would like that house.

But it is the one who fishes in the waters
and works the soil I want to inhabit me,
be in me, me as house for that spirit
that lives by what it touches, becomes what passes
through its hand.


Pictures in the Tunisian Desert

It is easy to sink into sand so deep
it is the same as staying so still
that the sand moves over you
and you become part of the dune.
Or the deepest end of the cave
where the light glows purple
at the furthest point in the sky
during the day.
Now I see why they twirl.
Because the swirl is the same as the still light
in the center, but the heat sizzles it
into a curve which dances
in the wind like fire.

She rose, her belly arched, her body uplifted
like the dunes blown by the wind. The source cavernous
flowing with life. The undercurrent beating like the tom tom.
The berber chant moving along the contour of the mounds until it
disappears, fading into the horizon. And when you mount the dunes
it comes again, the song in the wind, the granular texture velvet to touch.
Dry and wet the same here. The desert, the sun, the source constant.
The flow of wind, water.

And the women came to the desert to sing
their prayers in the hot sun. And it was good.
The heat was good. It blossomed in the wilderness
into ripe fruit. It burst with golden laughter.

The women came with their Tozeur black or Kairouan white.
Vivid color underneath the veil and underneath that the body, naked.
The film, the women in the hammams, before the separation.
Women moving, as if in a dream carrying pails of hot water.
The steam, the haze, the movement, the stillness. All silent.
Each taking stone and slowly scrubbing cheek, forehead, neck,
down legs, down breasts, and across belly.
Taking cloth and moving across another-child, sister, friend-
shoulder, arm, back, stretching across continents.
Water. Steaming water. Then cold. Again and again.

The film is long and slow, a stretch of pendulous bodies.

And then the women move from that center
leave hot pool and pulsing navel
And out of the silence come soft sounds
of Arabic, French, Italian, Yiddish, English, Russian.
And over their warm and radiant bodies they slowly wrap
bright red and purple cloth, and over that the heavy black muslim,
and the silk sari, the tight skirt, the worn dungarees, the sandals.

The bare feet slowly move out
of separate doors into
separate worlds.


I Come to Your Door

I come to your door to read you a love poem
by another but am stopped midair
by the quiet.
Next to you I notice our cat absorbed
licking her entire self assiduously
and you reading and writing
so intent that even my eager blurting energy
does not disturb the air
around you.

I retreat and write
this love poem to you
separate and so lovely.

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