Feature > Poetry
Susan Berlin

Susan Berlin

Susan Berlin met Tom when she attended the summer session at SLC in 1996. On the first day, he greeted the class with a crooked smile, saying “So, you wanna be poets? Well, welcome to a lifetime of character-building humiliations...” The only guarantee (although we didn’t know it, then) was that he himself would never be the source of such humiliation. However strong his criticism, it was always constructive, never leaving the poet without hope (like his refrigerator did, in 1957). Susan lives in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts. Her book, The Same Amount of Ink, has recently been published by Glass Lyre Press.

Unspeakable Gratitude


I had waited 30 years to go to graduate school. Two hours after I registered at Sarah Lawrence, I was in a coma with meningitis and a bad prognosis. When, eventually, I regained consciousness, I tried urgently to ask my son a question but only unformed sounds came out. He handed me a pad and pen, and it took me 5 minutes to write 4 words: Did     school     start     yet?

My son called Tom to let him know I was out of the coma but unable to speak. Tom said, Hold the phone up to her ear. . . And I heard Tom 's voice say Listen — you are in graduate school. You do whatever the docs tell you to do, however long it takes, and we'll work it out. Whenever you come back, if you can only take one course a semester, whatever — you are in grad school. We'll work it out. You just get better, ok?

From me, a torrent of tears. That was all I wanted to hear. How did he know? Tom called me every single day I was in that hospital, as he said he would. And guided and inspired me at every turning point of my life, sharing his humor and quirkiness, honoring me with his steadfast friendship, which was a blessing I did nothing to earn. He was like that. He just gave. To me, and to many. And, in return — from those of us forever indebted — a thousand IOUs hidden between the lines of every poem we write, his voice in our heads saying: Another 20-30 drafts. Gonna be a beauty!

Sail on, sweet friend.

Sugar Spoon


Low seven digits (1,000,006, approx.), until it's almost as flimsy as tinfoil,
this spoon,
plunged into the same sugar bowl
every morning, two, three, four times—for three-quarters
of a century, longer?
At night, deep in sweetness, it rests.
And at dawn, when the battered coffee pot begins to rattle,
it's still sunk in the white grains,
while outside, snow
drifts to the eaves almost,
or in summer, the sticky sugar hardens
on it in little arctic ridges. On the handle: my father's thumbprint
exactly on top of his thumbprint, thousands and thousands...
Between each print of his, my mother's. It's going
a bruised green in the recesses
of its engraved (viny trees,
sheep?) handle. It cost
a few pfennig once, with its bowl.
It will serve and serve
until the bottom of its shiny curve
grows so thin
a tiny hole opens
and thenceforth it will leave a dusting of its cargo,
a trail, a grainy Milky Way,
across the maple table
from the bowl to my father's, my mother's, coffee cup.




from God Particles, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008

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