The Night We Were Dylan Thomas

“In this collection, like a great photographer, Mara Bergman celebrates the moment and detail at the core of memory. She shows people enjoying music, meals, swimming, socialising, and superimposes the slippages in time that make them significant. Her material is the many dimensions of the family, and at the centre of that, the mother.

“Searching, impulsive, Bergman’s poems come from an appreciation of living. She immerses you like a sunset to share the moment. Together, her poems show the great changes families experience – the free and fearless life of a young woman set alongside a dying mother hanging on so she can hold a great-grandchild, the one-sided conversations we have with the dead.

“Bergman uses the memories that help us make sense to show continual movement between the long view and the close up. Her dynamism is infectious – you are drawn into this family’s wonder, love, compassion, grief and happiness. The family and people around it are universal and particular – Bergman shows us a man who steadily cuts a wedding dress into rags, bunting, bird scarers, floss, a mother who keeps her watch on US time when she’s visiting her daughter in the UK, the women whose pasts are lost in care homes. She shows a woman waiting for an endoscopy or holding a phone to the window so her mother, on another continent, can hear a storm. She has poems about dodgy knees and shoes – Bergman can be funny too.

“You want to be with these people because they’re such a tonic. You want to learn from them how to live to the full. Bergman’s poems remind me of Pablo Neruda’s ebullience and belief in the driving force of love. There’s a line summing up this urgency, ‘Hold onto that, don’t let it get away, Mom…’ and one of the final poems, ‘The Happiness’, delivers the book’s message, ‘Before it leaves / I will bury it deep enough to save.’

“The collection ends with a heron and like Adrienne Rich, who insisted her Great Blue Heron was not a symbol, but had its own place, Bergman’s heron is basking in the sun. After reading these poems, you’ll feel braced and ready, you’ll feel wiser and more generous, you’ll want to hold on to moments that contain your own astonishment.” 

– Jacky Wills

“A welcome and most welcoming varied new collection of Mara Bergman’s richly textured and sharply focused poems that explore and celebrate what she memorably calls ‘the gloriously ordinary’.”- Michael Laskey


          After Diane Arbus

While the human pincushion was sticking needles through his chest

in New Jersey, and contortionist Lydia Suarez

was preparing for an audience in New York City, when

for a penny the mood meter at Coney Island could determine

whether someone was frigid or ardent, tender or harmless, and

Miss Marian Seymour danced with Baron Theo von Roth

at the Grand Opera Ball, my sister and I were growing up

in a world of our own in Wantagh, Long Island, our house

built on the land of a potato farm. In the early years our cousins

pierced layers of ice and lowered strings with hooks.

Only miles away, in Hempstead, female impersonators

may have been smoothing their stockings, applying lipstick

and rouge in a changing room with tattered curtains,

and a beloved dog named Killer may have been buried in the cemetery

at Bide-a-Wee, where, years later, my sister would visit the homeless dogs

every day after school, in that summer of 1962 our father’s 

heart gave up for good. Back at school in September, we spent

weekends at our cousins’ and at the end of the year, in Levittown,

someone we didn’t know would put up a Christmas tree

in the corner of their living room, next to a sofa covered in plastic.

The clock on top of the TV will say 12.47 forever, the second hand

frozen on 8, the light through the kitchen window a persistent muted grey.


          for Suzanne Cleary

In ways we were a most unlikely group: Mark engaged

and David with his thick mustache and beard, you

a sophomore and me in my first year, our friendship

sown in a farming town, upstate New York,

in stark-lit rooms and the Rathskeller where

one Friday afternoon we drank pitcher after pitcher

of beer and one by one composed a line and passed it on

until it grew … incomprehensible. More unlikely

was that summer’s night on the Upper East Side

we converged to eat spaghetti. Was it David’s

or Mark’s idea to hop a cab to the Village,

the city singing, the driver speeding

to the heaving bar on Hudson? Was it you or Mark or David

who propped an elbow on the counter, looked up

to strike that pose? Then the rest of us in turn, unlikely

as it was even to be there, not that anyone seemed to notice

or care as we paused and waited, one by one, for someone

to click a camera and make us famous.


          for Aimee and Warren Hirschhorn

… though not where she lived for sixty-

plus years but farther east, where it’s flat

and green, ribboned with inlets, where the houses

stretch like endless sandy beaches, the horizon

so low – infinity is farther there.

And the air! Laced with salt, a hint

in every breath, it’s always there, and at night

when a breeze comes off the sea there’s

something so … so inexplicably

freeing there, she feels it there,

she’s alive.

When we speak on the phone there’s

a brightness in her voice, a lilt, a lift

I haven’t heard for months, nearly

a year and it makes me wonder

if it was ever there, or always there,

but here it is, as if the very air

has turned back years and years and suddenly

she is here again, and she

is young. It was so lovely, she says, as she

never says, just sitting by the pool, just

talking – just being there. I want to say

Hold on to that, don’t let it get away, Mom,

don’t let it go.