Robert Gottlieb, one of the most celebrated English-language book editors of the 20th century, once told the Paris Review that “the editor’s relationship to a book should be an invisible one.”

Gottlieb was referring to readers when he said that, not to writers. With all his writers, from Joseph Heller to Toni Morrison, Gottlieb was decidedly, and sensitively, hands-on.

“Somehow, to be helpful,” he said in that same interview, “an editor has to embody authority yet not become possessive or controlling.”

And therein lies the inherent friction between writer and editor. The editor has a definite say in the words…

Wikimedia Common License / Google Images

Our conversation pauses once we decipher the cargo
wedged into geometrically heaped crates on the truck in front of us,

hundreds of chickens releasing a random snowstorm of white feathers
blowing wildly on the wind like cherry blossoms just off the bloom

birds on their way to the slaughterhouse,
unwitting accomplices to their own demise, yet at the end

releasing superfluous feathers like soft messengers of lives lived:
I was here.

the truck already smothered by the guilty stench of death,
the trucker thinking perhaps about lunch or taking a piss,

the chickens transforming into martyrs,
objects of pity and…

Photo by Michael Kropiewnicki from Pexels

This spring in the Eastern U.S., millions of Brood X cicadas with bulging red eyes and fat squishy bodies will emerge from the ground and take wing. As many as 1.5 million bugs per acre will click and whirr through the air, smash into windshields, and leave their molted exoskeletons clinging to telephone polls and pet fur.

Many people (not just scientists) find this event, which occurs every 17 years, entertaining, fascinating, even delightful.

I do not. I will return to a Covid-like state of lockdown for at least a few days while this horror movie springs to life.


Photo by Paul Blenkhorn @SensoryArtHouse on Unsplash

Compressed to diamond hardness minus the clarity
at the bottom of a steaming garbage mountain in Rio,
beneath the ashes of a Rohingya refugee fire,
in the larynx of a crushed throat,
upon the throes of a death spiral,
screaming for deliverance in a Guantánamo cell,
on the walls of Guernica’s splattered war paint,
lurking between the letters of a conspiracy mash note,
blackened by the mind’s eye where no one listens in,
rotting in the stockyards tended by junkyard dogs,
engraved by goose quill on moth-eaten parchment,
abandoned at birth, death, in between,
perching on a pillow of bitter cement —
stories stolen, swollen, swallowed whole,
leaving us in fragments like scraps of papyrus
languishing inside a tomb.

Amy L. Bernstein

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

Your new novel is progressing nicely. Perhaps you’re 30,000 or 40,000 words in — far enough along to establish a rhythm. You have a clear idea of how the story ends and you’re excited to take the journey that will get you (and your characters) to the big finish.

Then you and your novel trip and fall into a giant vat of pudding. It’s cold, squishy, slippery, and quite difficult — tricky, really — to climb out of.

There’s a chance you’ll drown. Or suffocate. …

Photo by Tim Oun on Unsplash

When winds of spring whistle straight through your bones
and divebomb your soul like winds of war,

leaving behind cratered expectations,

you wish a different season would blow in,
launch a new offensive to bleach those bones,

grind and polish those bones until
they glow like laundered sheets on a line

so when the wind whips back around,
your bones may rise, dance, begin again.

Photo by Ryan Stone on Unsplash

I never imagined I’d be the one to get it. I told friends and family, only half in jest, that I wouldn’t get sick. I rarely caught even a common cold. Still, I was not foolhardy. I took all recommended precautions, remaining indoors for weeks at a stretch, wearing a mask everywhere, washing my hands vigorously, avoiding all crowds.

Last August, on the third day of our planned month-long respite at my husband’s family’s isolated cabin in rural Vermont, 600 miles from home and forty minutes from the nearest hospital, the virus attacked. The onset of Covid was swift, merciless…

Alexander Jawfox on Unsplash

the sshhwhrr of warm breezes seduce reason
like padded fingertips

chucking the chin’s nub toward
the sun’s conical tractor beams,

soothing as wings drying in the patient light, pre-flight,
eyes ecstatically shut,

the innocent inattentive back,
from nape to buttock,

will absorb the first blows of gale-force chaos,
bilious clouds among the humors

sent to quell all gentler air.


Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Ambassadors from the Andromeda Galaxy,
or so I surmise,
visit on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at precisely

3:33 a.m.

my face commanded to rise from the pillow in Earthtime to confirm the o’clock, nodding as my sleep-disrupting friends cruise by
on their way to somewhere, anywhere, everywhere

others follow suit, whether to tease or torture;
from the Milky Way,
or so I surmise,
dropping by on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays at precisely

2:22 a.m.

how else to explain the punctual awakenings?

hormonal/diurnal rhythms alone cannot account for
cosmically precise disruptions, no,

I am visited from the beyond,
there can be no doubt,
my flesh pelted by
hadrons, photons, leptons,
in the wee hours

Amy L. Bernstein

In response to J.D. Harmsprompt.


National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Mitchell Griest for Unsplash.

Nomonde Calata screaming long after
apartheid burns her husband to ashes — long after
her screams rent the tenuous fabric of
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and her screams
carry across South Africa’s oceans
to an America rent by lies — red-mudded America soaking in
veiled intentions —

can we ever meme our way to the truth — with a scream that startles our
out of the mud? toward
national reconciliation acknowledgment / acceptance

redress / healing / hope

face the truth about the past, address the harm,
give testimony, receive the informant’s pain

this too is a meme —
vengeance is the lord’s but only revenge will cleans our soul,
only by screaming until the shockwaves burst the dam of inattention,
and we press play/replay/rewind/fast-forward

this too is a meme,
an American meme.

Amy L. Bernstein

Amy writes for the page, the stage, and forms in between. Her novel “Ell” will be published in June 2021. Award-winning former journalist and exec speechwriter.

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