Lillian-Yvonne Bertram


I crisscross the stacks
              searching for my mother
and father. The librarian
              tells me they boarded
the other plane
              that already took off.
This library is an airplane
              I do not want to be on
but the doors are locked
              and in fact
the librarian states,
              we too have taken off.
See, you didn’t feel
              a thing.
Her smile
is wide. The etched outlines
              of plump cornfields
slide of out view
              as the books slip
their shelves. The librarian
              instructs us
to look forward,
              hold our arms
overhead like children on a roller
              coaster. Her smile
widens from forehead
              to jaw. She demonstrates
as the plane attacks
              a pitch & yaw. Watch me.
See? Do it like this.


I bite off my tongue to keep the illness from

spreading its ugly baby. To tie off what

remains I twist the end tight as a sausage. I

tuck the bitten off piece into my cheek pocket

and take it with me. How difficult it is to talk!

But I can still maneuver the tongue muscle

stump. I go to the waiting car.

                            My job is to make others do what

they would rather not do and the driver does

not want to go where I had asked him to take

me. So I open my mouth and let my

tonguepiece unfurl its swarm. How difficult it

is to talk! But see? He still understands what I

mean. How bright the midday sun as the car

pulls away from the curb.


A rabbit is lying on the ground beneath a bush, grooming itself. I look again and next to the rabbit lies a fox.
The two appear to be talking. The fox looks over its shoulder at me, as if to say, or it does say, look, I’m not
going to do anything.

Behind us comes a large turkey and as we walk away from the turkey, the turkey begins to hurry up. The
turkey’s pace frightens me. All attempts to shoo the turkey away are failing, and now the turkey makes like the
turkey wants to bite. I try to push the turkey away again, this time harder, but I worry about hurting the
turkey and I find I cannot harm an animal I do not understand.

Now it seems us or the turkey. I do not know who throws the first stone. I give my stone to someone else to
throw but under the condition they do not throw it directly at the turkey’s head. What happens next I cannot
say. I turn my back and walk out of the grove.

LILLIAN-YVONNE BERTRAM has been a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference work-study scholar, a writer-in-residence at the Montana Artists’ Refuge, and is a Cave Canem alumna. Her poetry has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Callaloo, Gulf Coast, Harvard Review, Indiana Review, Narrative Magazine, Subtropics, and other journals. She received first place in the 2011 Summer Literary Seminars poetry contest, has won the Gulf Coast Magazine Donald Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, and has received second place in Narrative Magazine’s poetry contest. Bertram is a graduate of the writing programs at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was a 2009-2011 Gaius Charles Bolin Fellow at Williams College where she taught creative writing and literature. Her first book, But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise, won the Red Hen Press 2010 Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award, judged by Claudia Rankine.

Read more by Lillian-Yvonne Bertram:

Vinyl Poetry
Poetry Foundation

Watch the book trailer for Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s collection, But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise