from Playing Cards in Purgatory, oil on panel, Kelli Hoppmann, 2002
They all cheat, of course: on spouses, at games,
or themselves. They color their hair even though
their masks would cover it. They practice unnatural
expressions, wear heavy gowns with hidden pockets,
conceal deadly weapons. Not the least of which
are their own bodies. But they are mere amateurs
compared to you: their arrows fly disappointingly
straight, and they never notice that your horns
curve backward. You could easily have them naked
in a few minutes of strip poker, but you would prefer
to let events develop spontaneously: at the point
of their simultaneous release, your dragonfly drone
will record it for future use. You are something else
in sheep’s clothing, under a blanket of red wool.
* * *
from Moon Foxes, oil on panel, Kelli Hoppmann, 2007
You were summer: sizzling incandescence and scarlet,
showy blossoms, but you married the autumn woman
anyway, even as she wound herself in wreaths of winter
furs, arctic snow covering the harvests, the dying leaves.
You will breathe only blue skies from this day forward.
Don’t turn your head, and don’t look back; the darkness
behind you is just a velvet cloak you can wrap yourself in
whenever you tire of sunshine, of dwindling golden light.
And you can weary of it all; whatever falls: flowers, fruit,
foliage, water’s myriad manifestations. Sooner or later,
ennui, like an endemic parasite, will infest you. Doubtless
you could find other wives as true. Where does she go
at night, with her little black purse? Would her flesh be red
as yours, if you could catch her without her russet skin?
* * *
Trial and Error
from Whisper I, oil on panel, Kelli Hoppmann, 2007
You can choose to listen, or not. Even if you can’t
not hear him, you don’t have to follow his suggestions.
Even if you follow his suggestions, you can pretend
it was your idea in the first place, that no harm
was done, that you really liked it. Even if you like it,
you can take it or leave it; it doesn’t have to become
an obsession. Even if you start to think about it
all the time, you can distract yourself: long walks
beneath the boughs, cold showers, the burn of bourbon.
Pain can be a distraction, if necessary. Or is this pain?
Even if you go through the motions, recite the litany
from the last word onward, count your blessings
(the dregs and splinters you wouldn’t dream of gathering
back into your heart), you don’t have to believe.
* * *
Paintings reproduced with permission from the artist.
F.J. Bergmann writes poetry and speculative fiction, often simultaneously, which can be found in The 5-2, Black Treacle, Lakeside Circus, Right Hand Pointing, Silver Blade, and elsewhere. Editor of Star*Line and poetry editor of Mobius: The Journal of Social Change; recent awards include the 2012 Rannu Prize for poetry and the 2013 SFPA Elgin chapbook award.