First Born, a glosa

Pam Bernard
| poetry


now you are darker than I can believe
it is not wisdom that I have come to
with its denials and pure promises
but the absences I cannot set down

W.S. Merwin


You were the brittle membrane

between those years and all

that came afterward—our mother

candling the egg in which you floated,

calling you from your windless cave

where you lay curled and ripening,

your eyes tucked shut.

But you turned as you neared

earthlight, leaned into the breach.

Now you are darker that I can believe.


Who gentled you away?

Who held your face, guided you

to dream among the trees?

Or was it a tearing, a bloody escape

as father drove the streets

looking for the damned fool

doctor who’d be drunk as usual,

the coat Mother had wrapped herself in

already stiff with the sea of you?

It is not wisdom that I have come to,


knowing she kept that coat

hanging in the dark of the closet

until something, years on, ate it

clear through, she’d say, and even

then she had no notion of how sad

it was she’d kept such a thing,

and told the story as if it were

not a story of first death, not

a kind of hymn, guileless, blameless,

with its denials and pure promises.


You are the swimmer far across

the lake now whose wake folds in

behind you, as you ply your way, arms

lifting, lifting—then faltering, to turn

to where I sit battened against

what I’ve heard—the sound

of an innocent dropped

into open waters. It is not terror

that you’ll once again drown

but the absences I cannot set down.

Pam Bernard received her MFA from the Graduate Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and BA from Harvard University. Her awards include a NEA Fellowship in Poetry and two Mass Cultural Council Fellowships. She has published three full-length collections, and most recently a verse novel entitled Esther (CavanKerry Press).

Asylum Lake