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ISBN: 978-1-62557-709-2
Reviews & Media Review in THE BOSTON GLOBE
Categories Poetry

Three Hands None

Publication Date: March 2019


photos of men was it this one that
I tell them I hadn’t seen his face, the flashlight
melted my eyes
mug shots again was it this one that
I hadn’t seen hadn’t seen
did I smell his breath his underarm stench
his filtered or filterless, did he smell me
he watched me
he locked my face naked in detention
he knew who I was
knew me when I crossed the street
knows who I am knows this is me
knows me
in the grocery aisle he sees me
stripped to less than essence
he held me down, the heft of his hand
the precise edge of his blade
squeezed me pierced me emptied me of substance
I am not playing here with agency
this is what powerless is
barebones nothing
barebones and muscleless, skeleton collapsed
lunch became bread and water
motion was turning my head to look at the door
watch the door
thought was imploded chaos
speech was a pageless lexicon
sleep was a useless plan
exhaustion buzzed like a swinging hive
my home my skin locked me out
breakfast was a sip of juice
supper was bread and water
the week after, a fruit


Fearless, unsparing, Denise Bergman probes a violent, sexual assault to expose the personal and social consequences of ungovernable, masculinist culture. “Home is the coat that can’t keep me warm or dry/ buttons and holes I can’t align,” the poet declares, struggling to rebuild a coherent self. A book-length narrative poem, Three Hands None reveals how “materials for this story” also account for domestic and international tragedies: “the single-eyed babies born in Fallujah” and “strip-mined flattened hills.” A single sequence—of narrative, fragment, and image—this original work will leave you breathless, changed.

—Robin Becker, author of The Black Bear Inside Me

To read Denise Bergman’s Three Hands None is to inhabit an intimate accounting of a sexual assault in her bed by a stranger that reduced the writer to “barebones nothing.” The accounting is obsessive, almost Steinian in its use of repetition to render the ripping of self that occurred during and after the event, the long days and nights when she “sweated inside matted wool terror filthy as a sheep.” The poems that compose the volume read like the raw data of a mind working nonstop to parse the violence that severed her from “a body once her own.” They collapse the distance between past and present, silence and speech, material and the metaphor, inside and out. The journey is not for the timid; images climb inside and rake your chest. But Bergman’s supple intelligence—whose “home is the range of one’s instinct”—and mastery of her craft carry her and her reader through: “Word on the street is she still lives there.”

—Lee Sharkey, author of Walking Backwards

About the Author

© Sarah Boyer

Denise Bergman

Denise Bergman is the author of four other books of poetry. Three Hands None (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) delves into the night forty years ago when the author was attacked in her bed by a stranger. A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea centers on the making and endurance of “symbol” in the Statue of Liberty. The Telling is a book-length poem generated by a relative's one-sentence secret about her escape as a refugee. Seeing Annie Sullivan is based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher.

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