Welcome, Denise Bergman!

During the month of June, we are celebrating the authors that came to us during our last open reading period. Today we bring you Denise Bergman, author of the poetry collection Three Hands None, which is due out in March of 2019.

The Author

Denise Bergman 6-17 V2Denise Bergman’s A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea won the Patricia Clark Smith Poetry Prize and was published by West End Press in 2014. The book centers on the making and endurance of “symbol” in the Statue of Liberty; the impetus for the book was the year when the statue sat in 350 pieces in 214 crates on its future island home awaiting reconstruction. The Telling (Cervena Barva, 2014) is a book-length poem generated by a relative’s one-sentence secret: she believed that as a child refugee she had accidentally killed her mother. Seeing Annie Sullivan (poetry, Cedar Hill Books) based on the early life of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was translated into Braille and a Talking Book. Denise conceived and edited the anthology of urban poetry City River of Voices (West End Press). Her poetry is widely published, most recently in Poetry, Beloit Journal, and Solstice, Paterson Literary Review, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers Women’s Daybook. The first stanza of her poem “Red,” about a neighborhood near a slaughterhouse, is permanently installed in a public park in Cambridge, Mass. Denise was a Split This Rock poet of the week, and has received grants from the Puffin Foundation and the Mass Cultural Council.

On writing Three Hands None

I am fascinated by “brackets of time,” the elasticity of a single moment/hour/day that simultaneously compresses and expands in our perception and memory.
Two such temporal places became the framework for writing Three Hands None. One is the pinpoint experience of the night forty-five years ago when I was attacked in my bed by a stranger. The other is the present, the whereabouts from which I explore the attack and its immediate aftermath.
The former is unswept, cluttered with piles of confusion, stunned. The latter has the advantage of time passed, that is, a better understanding of the many forms of power-over-others and powerlessness, secrecy, privacy, and exposure.


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

tattered and tight when did I expose again my skin to light. kitchen
fluorescent hallway incandescent. hazy St. Louis sun
I sweated inside matted wool terror filthy as a sheep
sweated even under a flowered cotton sheet
shed layers wool cotton skin to where what-is-left lives when all is peeled
naked and when the spinning slowed a toe stepped tentatively out. a
on a bike with broken brakes you skip skip skip your foot to stop. risk a
twisted ankle
a twisted ankle’s no distraction from a mouth with oozing sores a neck
stiff in pain
my mouth my neck I must say that word: my
I can write pages but when I write my I cry
I can write but when I write my I cry. odd strange I’ve told this story a
thousand times it is me telling it me it is about me me I write my and I cry
a twenty-year-old woman alone in a tiny speck of bed deep inside sleep
wakes up to a man with a knife at her throat. my is the distance the knife
traveled to slash the kernel of her being into pieces
my is the nanosecond minute lifetime. my is eternity’s heft. he leaned on
my chest his elbow in my rib one hand over my mouth
his three hands one on my mouth one with the knife one holding the
flashlight so close my eyes were on fire

materials for this story freeze in winter alleys
drown like telegraph lines under a pastel coral reef
float in the wind that winds your hair
dangle in Central Hardware on old pegboard hooks
squeeze tight against you in subway turnstiles
cram the last inch of elevator stinking sweat and out of breath
arrive cracked or water stained
stutter indecipherable words in the simplest language
materials are in the single-eye babies born in Fallujah
in their depleted uranium blood
materials are in the motherless sisterless fatherless brotherless aunt-
uncle- neighborless son- daughterless grandparentless ghosts of
evaporated towns
the rat-a-tat-tat clicking locks on windows and doors
the walls of prison. the walls of open-air prison
the nasal snoring sleep that is never and can never be a let-go relaxed
and confident sleep
materials are shovels to find and claim the names buried under angled
light buried between blades of heat. materials are the pick-axes
shivering overuse
materials are every woman and everywoman
a fist is raised. a roar is born a rumble in the distance
material is the eclipsed sun behind a sudden drone
look at aggression’s lustful desire
find materials for this story in power fed with stolen land uprooted trees
suffocated springs
materials for this story haunt the margins. pores of skin. molecules of
metal. crack of stone