Three Poems

Poetry / Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

:: The Grains of Ascendancy ::

                    an abecedarian

AgriGold squares the county roads in miles
	and not since Solomon is production so
Biblical: roots deepening into kernels and crops reflecting natural laws.
Consider the traits of cops, crosses, and roses,
		how this scenario reflects all-American scientists zeroed in on the
Diversity of wheats, grains dry-husked and rubbed to a staticky charge. In this weather so
	Extremely of the late century, I count every presence, every
		ever-present penis skimming the dialogue, and my
Fussy bungles the tenured denouement, irritating seasonal growing patterns. Yet the
	chemicals stagger to their
Greatness. Yell over the world that the indigenous will in-
Herit the earth and some subsidized Custer will till you under with a tweet.
I can’t breathe for all this modern wheat stoppering my nostrils. I await the American
	agriculturists to address the
Issue of this
Intolerance. I too once loved the mania west of Independence,
Jefferson City, and the World’s Only Corn Palace—closed for renovation on my visit. To
Kill time I buy a pink Police Girl cap gun,
	a five-point tin sheriff badge. Freeze or I’ll
Light you up.
Mankind came to modernity on the whittled backs of grain. Blame schizophrenia on gluten,
	revolution on
Night sweats, night sweats on red summer, Red Summer on Red May, Red May on the
	wheat wave, wheat wave on easements easing
Open leagues of frontiers, hectares now proofing with bloom. Milling
Punishes grain and calls it progress. This night is Illinois-
Quiet, save for the mill-train and alfalfa fields shushing the air. If I die in police custody,
Return me to my mother as a cup of rice seeds in a blood-soaked sock. This night is canyon-
quiet, is Maine-quiet & lobster-
shell red, the color of battered flesh
Too changed to ever change back. Unhealthy wheat culture means civilization is in decline,     and if we’re gone, this 	
        whole playhouse goes
Up in smoke, and who left will pollinate these
Vacant hulls. I see green fields…but I can’t seem to get there no how.
Wheat can but we can’t winter here. With allies like these, who needs anthra-
x. Can
You survive every thing? Centuries in, centuries out—the roller mill restyles colonial
	wheat. The germs of revolution relapse, flap like cards in the spokes of


                                                                                         Italics are the voices of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland’s 
                                                                                         arresting officer, Amiri Baraka, Harriet Tubman, and the 							
                                                                                         Anson Mills grain website. The phrase “the grain of 							
                                                                                         ascendancy” is from the writer Paul Graham.


:: Netherland ::

The czar and his children
all burnt. Rib

cage of coal
flowers. Script

faxed by accuser
to accused. Grandfather

did or did not 
hammer at the Reich,

his acts lost to Parkinson’s
last memory. 

After he crossed
the bridge, the bridge

was bombed. A country

sunk once again. 
How many the boats

of the dead float
up in the flood.

Grandfather pages
through the faces

of that town:
the miller, the baker

the candlestick
maker. Gone gone

gone. Their houses
their fields

their children all burnt.


:: Raise Her Dark Matter ::

Come witness my cunt
made of deer meat

my drying
dry throat. Men

motorcycle by
the lakeside & behold

I glide as gravel
to the shore,

issue a magic trick.
I raise my dark matter

to the height of kites
cooly strung about

the sky, lie
my stone back

to the rough island.
A fiddle whine

or whistle
interrupts my sun-

spanked day.
This new shadow

above me is the sweat-
salted face

of someone’s child—
boy or girl

it doesn’t matter.
I curse and 

it bursts into doves.


From the writer

:: Account ::

Grains of Ascen­dan­cy”: The “seed” for this poem came quite lit­er­al­ly from a seed, from talk­ing with the writer Paul Gra­ham about his mem­oir that explores Celi­ac dis­ease and the his­to­ry of wheat. Appar­ent­ly, wheat is the “grain of ascen­dan­cy” because it is asso­ci­at­ed with the rise of advanced civ­i­liza­tions. When wheat pro­duc­tion falls, the civ­i­liza­tion is in decline. As goes wheat pro­duc­tion, goes civ­i­liza­tion, it is told. The metaphor was just too per­fect and I was just too angry—about Black deaths at the hands of police, about patri­archy, all of it—to not use it. I did my own research into wheat, and the more I learned, the more per­fect the metaphor: all that bleach­ing, strip­ping, grind­ing; the rev­o­lu­tion of wheels and grains and seeds; plant­i­ng the same seeds and reap­ing the same har­vest again and again and again. It’s a poem of pub­lic depres­sion and polit­i­cal despair. As for the abecedar­i­an, I felt I need­ed some­thing to har­ness my despair and was inspired after stum­bling on an abecedar­i­an in a book of poems. I changed a few things about the form, but in the main the over­all struc­ture still stands. The abecedar­i­an also felt like an absurd and fun­ny form (child­ish even, if you remem­ber writ­ing such poems in grade school), and you know what they say—you laugh to keep from crying.

Nether­land” is a poem I wrote very soon after the elec­tion. Go fig­ure. Half of my fam­i­ly is from The Nether­lands and Bel­gium, and the strongest mem­o­ries I have of my grand­par­ents are them talk­ing about the War, WWII. The oth­er strongest mem­o­ry is that my grand­moth­er taught me to play Soli­taire and a few oth­er bits of wis­dom. But my grand­fa­ther, out of all the books we had in our house, the only book I ever remem­ber him read­ing was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It’s a very astute book, a tome of his­to­ry. I imag­ine, now, that he read and reread it so as to remind him­self of how what had hap­pened, hap­pened. Some­thing had to account for the dev­as­ta­tion of his coun­try, his home­land, the indis­crim­i­nate deaths of what felt like every­one he knew. And so now I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich to con­nect to my grand­fa­ther (now deceased). I was read­ing it up to, sur­round­ing, and after the elec­tion. This poem, then, is the cul­mi­na­tion of med­i­tat­ing on the dark times of the past and present.

Raise Her Dark Mat­ter” is a poem that has trou­bled me for quite a while now. It’s gone through so many incar­na­tions, and I’m so hap­py it’s found a home. This most recent iter­a­tion actu­al­ly came out of a revi­sion exer­cise that I did with my Advanced Poet­ry Work­shop stu­dents last semes­ter. We were work­ing with poems that had trou­bled us and were doing lots of syn­onym and antonym replace­ments, and giv­en that this poem had been both­er­ing me for a while, I did the exer­cise with them. As I did it, I got to think­ing, “Huh! This ain’t so bad, why didn’t I think of that before? …” So, pro-tip: doing writ­ing and revi­sion exer­cis­es with your stu­dents can pay off.

One of the ker­nels of this poem was a hot day on the beach of Cayu­ga Lake (Itha­ca), and like so many women who are always “girls” to some­body, I was always being sub­ject to some man’s advances or anoth­er. I think this poem came out of a desire to wish the self into being able to prac­tice a pro­tec­tive mag­ic, the kind where you could just lie on the beach and be left the fuck alone.


Lil­lian-Yvonne Bertram is the author of But a Storm is Blow­ing from Par­adise (Red Hen Press, 2012) cho­sen by Clau­dia Rank­ine as win­ner of the 2010 Ben­jamin Salt­man Award; a slice from the cake made of air (Red Hen Press, 2016), and Per­son­al Sci­ence (Tupe­lo Press, 2017).