I like a green olive
stuffed with a pimento
after it has been submerged
for some time in a martini.
I like to go downtown with my husband,
sit in a booth at the Grand
and let the drink rub the edge
off the inane fight we had
about the furniture salesman
and whether he treated us fairly,
my view, or whether he tried
to put one over on us,
my husband’s view.
In some moods we’ll fight about anything
just to make the other
carry the weight of anger
we lug all day through our lives.
But that moment
when we climb into bed
on a winter’s night,
letting our bodies lie down,
letting the day be over,
its not unlike the way gin
loosens the rope, lets float
the raft into its stillest waters.
Happy hour, when the landscape
loses its daylight meaning
as it slips into the silk of dusk
before night pours down its jazzy notes
in a cathedral of crushed velvet.
We are sitting side by side in the booth,
watching the flurry of holiday shoppers
come in from the cold.
By now the salesman is a jerk,
or he’s a helluva guy,
either way is fine.
We are talking about anything,
having drifted out into the calm
plainness of intimacy. Nothing
profound, just a place to rest
at the end of the day,
the cord between us swinging gently
after the bells have stopped their ringing.

“Gin” by Jacqueline Berger, from “The Gift that Arrives Broken”.
© Autumn House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Teaching My Husband to Swim

Usually I’m the one who knows nothing,
frozen at the computer while my husband
tries to talk me through.
But this morning at the inn where we’ve come
to celebrate our second anniversary,
he tells me how many people in the past
have tried and failed to teach him how to swim.
I throw my suit on and grab our towels.
This is something I know I can do.
We’ve already been in the pool—a late afternoon
dip when we got here, me doing laps
and my husband dog paddling beside me,
his head above water, or holding his breath
the length of the pool before coming up for air.
Now I stand by the side, pulling my elbows back
and turning my head to demonstrate the crawl.
The fog has burned off the valley
and the pool shines, set off by the vineyards
whose grapes in another month
will be ready for harvest.
My husband in the pool tries to follow what I’m showing
but yanks his head to the surface, coughing water.
I get in with him and we discuss the mechanics
of breathing. He doesn’t know about exhaling
through the nose under water, never learned
the significance of making bubbles.
It’s a revelation. I send him
back and forth across the pool and it works.
He’s swimming. Each time his face comes up
as his arm draws back,
the O of his mouth looks like wonder
or terror. We move on to the breast stroke,
and his head, like a needle stitching cloth,
gathers the water in the thick folds.
I stand off to the side coaching,
triumphant but careful to let the victory be his.
An ironic high five when we get out of the water
is all he wants to signify the occasion.
In the delicate economy of marriage
giving costs less than receiving,
the thin wire of power
threaded through the soft body of need.
We’re ready for a hot bath
and both fit in the large tub in our room
where we lather our bodies and hair,
passing the soap between us.

Jacqueline Berger, “Teaching My Husband to Swim” from “The Gift That Arrives Unbroken”. Copyright © 2010 by Jacqueline Berger. Used by the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC, on behalf of Autumn House Press, (buy now)


Why I’m Here

“Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

“Why I’m Here” by Jacqueline Berger, from “The Gift That Arrives Broken.”
© Autumn House Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)