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[Wanting to be a servant of no one and wanting to compel service from no one]

Wanting to be a servant of no one and wanting to compel service from

no one, wanting to be uncondescendingly mutual but taught as a child

to serve or compel service, that one is either servant or master, I came

to God, who is both servant and master, looking for both a master and

a servant. And, having prostrated myself before Them, I found that

my ass was still on the floor looking up at someone, and it was good for

a time, because it was familiar, but soon you feel it in your back, your

neck, all that looking up. All that bowing. People aren’t meant to live

on all fours, aren’t meant to cower like a dog. But I did cower. I did live

on all fours, faking my way through dogdom. And God said it was good,

but I was like, really? This is what you want for me? Why would a

benevolent God think of Their Function so dichotomously? They

meant for me to travel the antipodes like a polar explorer and I did,

but like a polar explorer, what I found was mostly uninhabitable.

Forked tongue of cold reaching in past my clothes toward me, was our

God. Our forked God, a tongue, a road, a blow lightning strikes you

that brings you to your knees. By now, it is easy to put a number of

things in a small pack and head for that road. Head for that bolt of

lightning. Bottles of water, hard food, the terrible bread that us of the

ancient hands always makes. Easy to put them in a pack in the night, as

we sleep in the other room, thinking of that road, our God. Easy to pull

one, two, three extra shirts off the line and layer them to keep warm,

easy to walk very quietly past the dreaming dog, who barks no matter

what you do at night. His feet articulate as he conjures, and I think, is

that what’s happening in his brain when he runs? Running a series of

hinges in the legs going off again and again, a series of synaptic binaries

creating a path down a nerve that seems inevitable. It is easy for this

path of binaries to open the gate very slowly, to prevent it from crying

out. Easier and easier, each step, to see this ill-lit road, its country

trees, to imagine the town it ends in.


[Dreaming of being singular]

Dreaming of being singular, you

tried to keep yourself apart,

a person watching from

an upstairs room

the activity of the neighbors

in their yard below.

Turning off all human—or,

any sign of human—,

makes you a voyeurish

letch, looking in on someone’s

saggy boobs and crumpled

bed sheets. Most windows

are made for one-directional

viewing, are not intended

to make clear a path for

people on the outside.

Which makes them perfect

for me. I mean you.

I have liked to imagine myself

behind a two-way mirror,

observing but not observed.

You have to have

some material moderating

the experience to do this.

Polonius behind his curtain.

Which is why I speak to you

like this, here. The line,

the one between you and me,

a little broken.


KATIE BERTA has poems appearing or forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Cincinnati Review, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, The Yale Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Bennington Review, among other magazines. She has received residencies from Millay Arts and The Hambidge Center, fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and an Iowa Review Award. She is the managing editor of The Iowa Review.


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