Adria Bernardi

motherhood is requiring that much listening / over time

by Adria Bernardi


“Between 10 and 18 months a baby’s emotions are developed. Emotions are clearly connected with long-term memory.”

“The brain is shaped most during the first 10 years of life. . . Teaching music, language, and other lifelong skills will be easier during these early years.”

“. . . Repetition forms connections. Talk to the baby so that he or she will begin babbling. Name what you are doing, name items, point and show expression on your face. . .”

—North Carolina State University, A & T State University, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture,

Brain Development

“This pattern of relegating women to domestic duties, while diminishing their authority in the family, will come as no surprise to anybody familiar with how modern welfare states operate. What distinguished fascist Italy is perhaps only that the state’s claim to promote a modern maternity was so vigorous, while government services were so unevenly administered.  The fascist family welfare services offered the allure of the modern, without its underpinnings. They set new standards, interfered with old customs, and stigmatized traditional practices.  Yet they failed to provide the wherewithal for women to feel empowered by a modernized maternal craft—either as the providers or as the beneficiaries of the new services.  Italian mothers of all classes were thus made to feel inadequate, anxious, and dependent.”

—Victoria de Grazia, “Motherhood,” How Fascism Ruled Women, (Berkeley: University of California Press) 1992. 60

motherhood is requiring that much

listening / over time


though her
eyes and mouth
are closed
they are closed
with listening
and (the plane) between the eyes
the forehead (literally) reflect-

and the top of the the head
thinking cap – net-


motherhood is requiring that much

that’s how much listening
it seems to be requiring,

otherwise there is mis-step
otherwise, no bird

this closed mouth, counter-

intuitive, after all of the closed


you have wanted to                                  (respond)
but you have (literally)
not be able to wrap
your brain around it

November 19, 2008

I wake at 4 a.m.
as usual, each year
I wake up between 4 a.m
and 4:30 which is the time
when life changed when my life
came to me and I was about
to hold it

i dreamed i was flying above a hillside – it was very green,
and at some altitude, in spain, or italy, or france,
facing west, with the slope facing west and north
and the ground was cut into little sections with rounded
edges, little cushions, or sections of sod, or mosaic pieces,
there were small gaps between, through which you could
fall through, and the pull was to the right –
off to over valley, valleys, towns – there were voices
talking, women, something like court ladies, but
contemporary, beach houses, access, in conversation
off to the right side, in the distance, north, and i, my eyes,
were closed, i needed to open them in order to land
on the ground, which is where i lived, my house; there was
my fireplace, (on one tile) it was simply ornate, old, 19c fireplace with
a single garland on it, in one of the little sections of the sods
of earth and the others were very green, and i kept drifting;
i told myself to open my eyes to come to earth; they wouldn’t
open; gravity worked the other way. and a voice inside
me (it was mine, it was like my mother’s, my
grandmother’s, said svegliati! svegliati!) because
i was drifting, as if over the side of a globe, and my
eyes would, still, not open. there was space between
these tesserae of earth. it was easy to land
however. all i had to do was open my eyes
that would not open.

(when I opened my eyes the surprise and shock was not that I was on that field but in my bed.)

(the evening before I had seen the film Birdman; i had worked on the mosaic; Westland Street (for my son) there is one piece that is the living room fireplace. I woke with a headache and did not sleep well. (Sleep hygiene 101: 1. took a nap. 2. went to bed later than usual)







the distance between us is fixed
like the distance between port and port
as Genoa to New York.
i can imagine all i want
narrowing the span, an alteration —
of currents, wind-speed,
velocity, articulation
of vessel, but
the distance is set,
from the beginning of each

__         ___

(4483 nautical miles
18.7 days at sea
10 knots —
this does not count the land
routes, the tear from the
house and the before, — ear
separation —
nor the journey inland again and again to home)

_______              ________

mother-regard and what
it is is set; father flight
& scan is set; we navigate
the same sea.

It all originated outside me
the lamps, the shades, the trees
and yet the thread
like cable laid at deepest depth
at bottom of the sea
or thinnest filament in dome
of the earliest light bulb
is surely within
and what is in between.








we were displaced from the beginning
door, frame, —__    in bevel —
sound alignment
point of reference, center
point of perception







one hand open, one hand closed
on the same berth of the ship
of the transatlantic journey
once again







Maria, many years hence
now, a fawn walked in the woods,
and after the curve at the bridge,
a young buck, with a few year’s
of growth on his antlers,
leaped in the lower brush,
and crossed the path,
and then crossed back
over again, and then leaped
upland in the direction
of the fawn.







the oak-tree at the edge of the yard
boundary near
edge of ravine,
of alley


the house was constructed with one round door and one round window,
a roof covered with shingles,
reinforced with a beam between two walls.

for the end of that man is peace
psalm 37, reconsidered







. . . . .
o piacentina
do not fret
you will find
your sister
on the sabbath
hat of white







When she was four years old, I gave my sister an airplane ride.
With one hand I held her ankle, with the other I held a wrist.
I tried to swing her around the basement
but I hardly got her off the ground,
I could not get much momentum.
Something suddenly went Pop
like the cartilage nub at the top of a chicken bone rolling
against and detaching from its socket.
I laid my sister onto the linoleum,
which was cold because it had been laid over concrete.
She started to whimper in muffled way and
I got her blanket and covered her.
I thought the coolness would soothe her.
She was still, my sister who was never still.
As she lay on that cool floor,
I asked her if she wanted anything,
food, drink, a toy?
and she just lay there silently, staring at me
as if she trusted that I knew what to do.
She was hardly crying at all.
I was very nice to her.
I told her not to say anything about it to Mom.
which she didn’t.

At first after my mother came home,
she thought my sister was coming down with something.
And after a very long time, maybe half an hour,
when my sister still lay on the basement floor,
I went upstairs and told my mother what had happened,
what I had done.
You were doing what?
What were you thinking?

In the dark, we drove to the doctor’s,
it was five o’clock when we pulled into the parking lot.
They went inside and I was told to wait in the car.
The doctor fixed my sister,
put her shoulder back into its socket.
And then I knew this about myself:
that my mother’s rage held more terror
than my sister losing an arm.







a poem that does not cause pain
and when i open my eyes i see
a network of branches in tree
all sorts of possibilities, stem
main stem branching into its thinking
and when i close my eyes i
see the inside of my brain’s mapways
so many pathways


Still Life at the Morandi Museum (Notes?)

Pitcher after pitcher, objects rearranged
a stroller, a baby in a stroller,
the docents coo to him
I am trying to see, trying to let it be infused into me
but I am not still enough
trying to see before the baby becomes restless
and lets out a cry in this viewing room
I can’t come back; I know this
a still life taken from me before I am finished with it
pushing life itself, the baby squirms, strapped into carriage,
and quiet for a long moment, but not of course long enough

1. How many pitchers and objects he had in his studio. Stuff
2. He painted the same thing over and over
3. There’s a view of the piazza when we’re done.

it is an umbrella stroller
there are seven steps leading up to the door.







here, he said, holding out
his upturned hand,
here, he said, holding out
his cupped hand, here,
he said pointing insisting
index finger into upturned
cupped hand, standing steady
on two feet in the kitchen,
after I had said no.       here,
he said without a word,
with index finger
tapping against palm
of hand, right here,
his eyes meeting mine,
those eyes, tap, my eyes,
hearing, tap,
and I gave it.








                                      I sat in the living room of my old
house, on a chair near the fireplace, the house was very empty
and felt very sparse and without vitality, my mother was in
another room, back through the dining room, in the kitchen,
the house was cleared of much clutter and there was little
furniture.                 I listened as my grandmother made her
way down the steps, step by step, the steps were carpeted. The
staircase was rounded or had an L turn. I was anxious that she
not fall. I sat in my chair and waited. She wanted to walk
down herself. It took a long time. It was quiet. The house
was still. My mother was in the other room at the sink in the
back of the house. My grandmother stepped down onto the
floor of the front hallway. I went out to meet her. There was
a rose in the hallway
on a table in
a square glass vase in the place
where the door with the stained glass window
always stood open at an angle
in the warm months
and brushed against this







                                                                                    tell yourself
the way i sat upon her lap was secure
leg around knee, leg on leg
and leaning back, but not into, not
too far back into the pressed maternity
blouse and that expectancy – who would be
Brother – a smile, unusual in
all the photographs – and my hand not really
lighting on her arm, touching barely
or not, in mind, barely — knowing the space
of approach between us, us.
and on my face (my feet in socks)
no smile, a set expression
and my eyes about to break into
an expression
and reading
wary and as if wince of shoulder (smile maybe)
pulled in two directions

                                                              her arm over me
hand locked over her own wrist


Contributed by Adria Bernardi