Powerful yet gentle musings on the nature of growing old.
In his second collection of verse, Bernstein (On Leave With Norgood, 1989) seems preoccupied with the aging process and the idea of leaving behind a legacy, literary or otherwise. The opening poem, “Good Fortune,” sets the tone nicely: “Good fortune, when I am dead, / may my poems be one time read? / by a winsome summer’s lass; / though she murmur, ‘Oh how crass!’ / let her bestow her magic ring, / the glistening circle the iced glass brings / to the open page.” In this wonderful image, the condensation will evaporate, but the mark will endure. Bernstein normally adheres to traditional rhyme schemes, though sometimes, as here, his words get their impact precisely because they break free of it. He offers befuddled or amused meditations on a wide range of subjects, from the gym (“Treadmill, Life on the Run”) and social media (“Between the Twitter and the Tweet”) to college memories (“The Alumni Magazine”) and St. Patrick’s Day (“Seventeenth of March”). In one notable passage from “String Quartet in an Unheated Hall,” he describes the pleasure of listening to a live classical performance under less than ideal circumstances: “Let / music bake the bread of paradise / while we dream of steaming soup.” His keen observations come alive as the alliterative wordplay sparkles: “Steaming coffees are sipped / with cautious kisslike sips.” Such skill allows him to transform an act as ordinary as moving out of an apartment into a moment of deep reflection: “When we have left these rooms and gone / and the new couple have come, / will some part of us remain, / something from our task workdays, / the stipends and complaints, the weekend wished / and gone with weekend speed?”
A slim volume of short poems packed with delightful insights both rueful and celebratory.