Volume 14 • Number 2 • Fall-Winter 2022-2023

Jeff Bernstein

Portugal Wafts In On a Pandemic Breeze
(After Fernando Pessoa)

I contemplate the silent pond
Whose water is stirred by a breeze.
Am I thinking about everything,
Or has everything forgotten me?

Fernando Pessoa
I Contemplate the Silent Pond


Ride swaying elevadors of Lisbon
those funiculars trundle up narrow streets
on a smoky fall afternoon hilltops
fairly shining behind burnt-red rooftops
the day before we’re summoned
back to Boston   a death in the family
in perfect hindsight easily expected
we could provide no succor   nor could anyone.


The hills and vineyards we'd planned to visit
but never reached   now beyond our grasp
on a preternaturally warm day in mid-Vermont
I read Pessoa   glance at the Portuguese
on the left-hand pages
try and taste the rich Port we missed.

Future Events Not Yet Calendared

Home for the first time in seven months,
my daughter wondered if our older dog would die
before she saw her again.

I didn’t answer because you never know
what’s waiting. Will there be a morning soon
where there aren’t two velvet bodies

thumping against your legs, tails
sculling through the airy waters of summer?
My wife and I have started to discuss

which one of us will leave first, what we’d do
with the part of life left for whomever goes on.
Some people plan that trip down to the last detail.

But when the GPS fails for lack of service somewhere
in northeast Scotland you zigzag across the mountains,
learn to navigate by feel again, not a paper map anywhere

in the car. You don’t trust that you’re on the best road:
there are so many ways to get there and across
the high pass in the rainy afternoon light. Didn’t you

overtake that same lorry a couple of hours ago?
You scan intently for place names that sound familiar –
but what resonates? The A90 divides the green plains

like some undulating spinal column
between the huge turbines on the ridges
spinning slowly in the afternoon air,

a daytime nap’s dreams. Maybe you’ll end up
in Aberdeen at rush hour, GPS chirping
excitedly to life like my dogs anticipating

a walk. It announces roundabouts
every thousand feet stacking traffic
like toppled dominoes. An hour of that

and your patience runs out of wax.
That time of the year the sun doesn’t set
until late. Exasperation is pointless.

Some Call it the Hunger Moon

Blue light fades as you walk the road,
taps the remains of final day of January,
minus twelve when you got up. Imagine the woods
a large crowd of non-socially distanced trees,
those still wearing white from last week’s storm
are the carriers. Slender ash, birches, oaks,
beeches, spruces, maples and nuisance species
all wonder: who will live, who will crack?
The dog raises her ears at the random snaps,
breaks, soft falls into the snow, listening,
listening to the shadows lengthen.

I bought the book I’m reading now
for twenty-five cents at a tag sale, pre-COVID.
A Jim Harrison, but inscription is what got me:
Leon, I know how much you like this guy,
his latest, hope you don’t have it.
We love you, best of everything in 1992.
You deserve it
. Not sure how this book came
to the 4th of July sale at the Town Hall –
did Leon mean to surrender it or perhaps
he left it at home when he moved far away?

Pay attention outside, even on brief walks
to the comely evergreen near the pond
on the double-wide straight path carved
for my ancient blind Labrador by neighborhood
teenager with his snowblower. (Try as I might,
he will only address me as Mr. Bernstein.
Down near the city, kids wouldn’t understand
those manners.) Twenty yards from the house
you’re constantly surprised. A fisher cat shrieks.
The wolf moon turns bright orange as it rises
above the far hills. Tracks everywhere.
Onrushing wind, a ghost train gathering speed.

We’ve made other trails through the deep snow
for the nimble young rescue who plunges
her black nose into the blinding white searching
for animals underneath, gives a sudden pull
at her leash for reasons not readily apparent.
Just happiness, I suppose.

Groundhog Day could sum up the Pandemic.
Lost time means how many died needlessly,
how many suffered, how many could have been saved?
The Assinboines called it the Center Moon,
winter half done, darkness at its nadir
although there’s still light at 5 p.m.
The Dakotas knew it as the Severe Moon
or the Hard Moon. Any of those will do.

A lifelong New Englander, Jeff Bernstein watches the seasons slowly turn in these strange times from a hillside in Central Vermont with an occasional foray into town. The dogs maintain sanity and provide all forms of relief. Poetry is his favorite and earliest art form (he can’t draw a whit or hold a tune). He would most have liked to have been, like Thoreau, “an inspector of snow-storms and rain-storms… [a] surveyor, if not of highways, then of forest paths and all across-lot routes.” He is the author of two chapbooks and a full-length collection “Nightfall, Full of Light” published by Turning Point.