Jeff Bernstein

Option with Right of First Refusal

Wolves tumble that mountain like waves,
hiss and howl as days lengthen,
shadows of river birches grow and growl.
Tourists in New England, those gray seers
forage in the moustaches of the woody swamps
for strength, invisible even in direct vision.

The landscape’s changing. You can’t decide
what to accept or reject. As if there’s a choice.
Thinking about the political requires strong stuff;
cradled by white hillsides like coconut gumdrops,
it’s still a bitter dram, burns resting
on the tongue or swallowed in one gulp.

Are the wolves new to these woods?
That depends on how you define it.
They need a square mile or more per family.
In New York, about sixty thousand humans
could camp on that space for a while, fill
every cranny with noise. The wolves stay
mute about their presence at present.
They’re the ones you’d take every time.


It Seems Effortless

The visitor’s perspective and the child’s
bear a lot in common: can’t you loll on the deck
all the summer long day, eat the first harvest’s
corn on the cob – spear it with an imaginative
display of corn-fork derring-do, walk barefoot
while the dry breezes rustle the curtains and
fireflies perform on command? The ice cream
is as perfect as memory at the white cottage
on the other side of the village. The howling
when you return home sounds like the dogs inside
until you realize it rises from the meadow
on the other side of the road
so it must be a pair of coyotes,
the skies a crazy quilt of stars,
wind’s northwest so sleeping will not be an issue,
winter is off the table — really off the table —
and why can’t you do it all over again tomorrow?



A lifelong New Englander, Jeff Bernstein divides his time between Boston and Central Vermont. Poetry is his favorite and earliest art form (he can’t draw a whit or hold a tune). Recent poems appeared, or will shortly, in, among others, Best Indie Lit New England, The Centrifugal Eye, Cooweescoowee, The Kerf, The Midwest Quarterly, Mulberry Fork Review, Paper Nautilus, Pinyon, Reckless Writing Poetry Anthology, Rockhurst Review, Silkworm and Third Wednesday. His second chapbook, Nowhere Near Morning, was published in 2013 by Liquid Light Press. His manuscript “Nightfall, Full of Light” was a Finalist in the 2015 Violet Reed Haas Poetry Award for a full-length collection of poetry.

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