Three Poems by Katie Berta

Abstract spherical closeup blue and white and red
Photo by Jase Harris on Unsplash


which means I haven’t been eating my vegetables, which is a moral failing.
The bags under my eyes, the mortality of each little cell.
In the magazine it teaches you to apply concealer over the bags,
apply long wings onto your eyelids, which I do, though I know they are anti-academic.
I know enough about academia to know that I’d like to wear my opposition to it
on my face. Diane Seuss says eyeliner is war. She acknowledges the middle of the country.
At a conference, the other writers keep saying the word “hillbilly” which I honestly think of
as a slur. Debating whether the poor are stupid or just gullible. Debating whether
they can be saved. My mother’s family packed into their tiny house. Something about it
felt like a secret, when I was a kid. Now, I eat my vegetables. Or I try. The pictures of women
with tiny bodies and perfect skin. Or are they girls? Someone at the conference
says the young look clean. The graduate students. Their skin a sort of luminous
halo surrounding their bodies. The young and the rich, anyway. In my PhD,
Sarah said we all aged like Barack Obama. All that stress. Think about that,
but for your whole life. Think about that but without all the—whatever it was we
had. Going to someone’s house and eating the kale they cooked. The way
we believed it was all in service of such seriousness. Little did we know.
It was like you are to me, at arm’s length. Believing you are serious. More serious
than others. Others toil to buy the larger screen television. You toil to—
what? It’s a more nebulous appreciation you’re seeking. But it’s all the same
impulse. Even the rich eat Taco Bell when they’re drunk. That’s one
of the best lessons of my education. Even the rich get fat if you stress
them out enough. Luminous skin aging like a president’s. The cleanness
of the skin becoming otherwise. Fighting against my own pores. Fighting
to thin my body. Believing that beauty, richness, smartness is a kind of morality.
A kind of mortality. Just because you live doesn’t mean you’re good. Just being—
just being beautiful. The right kind of beauty. Worn on the outside,
they tell us, to show us what we might find within.



using a tweezer to put minute beads on Fabergé eggs or picking through the nits
covering your primate fellow travelers, same difference,
a kind of small encounter that requires all your attention, though your truck,
the earth, is hurtling, hurtling through space, on course to end all eggs and nits
and primates, more nuclear than nuclear in its seriousness—
it is sinister to become absorbed, at this late date.
I am worried about seriousness, the seriousness of my existence
vis-a-vis my nonexistence, vis-a-vis the nonexistence of everything,
which, nowadays, they are constantly reminding us of,
but I am worrying, mostly, while tapping little parts of a lit screen.
The lights change, which makes it look like the images
are moving. Tipping into my phone, I am the most absorbed.
Inside, the chimps from 2001: A Space Odyssey smash
the bones of tapir to Also sprach Zarathustra. Someone
(me?) is shrieking about capitalism. The United States government
wears on like a bandsaw, its movements projected onto everything.
Someone made this machine with their hands, the chips inside as delicate
as the detailing on a Fabergé egg. Outside the factory windows,
protective netting prevented unexpected deaths. When I tip
into my phone, that is one whole time of life. Work is a whole other.
Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s. I know, I know—what am I talking about?
Oh yeah—hurtling toward oblivion. I can do it so I barely feel it.
The vertigo. The tachypsychia. Then nothing, nothing.



Will I keep changing
even with this log to check
against, this log of every
abject thought I’ve had,
this log of every abject—
flayed ego flaying me
and who can even tell
whether we should let it
given that we can’t tell
whether the thought’s author
knows himself or others,
whether the thought’s author
is, miserly, down in the abject
basement of his heart,
tweeting from that basement
where even he himself
and his vicious needs
are strange to him. I am
changing in the face of
these vicious needs, if not
shaping myself toward them,
letting them make me
afraid. Down in the abject
basement of my heart
all I can feel is slighted,
subtweeted, strange.
The world is a fight, too, but
even when we fight
we feel someone’s body
come near, their sweat, your
hands slipping against them
as you struggle to get
purchase. Here, what closeness?
Skin-hungry, we take
each other, breathless, in, up,
to our mouths.

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