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…

Photo by Saad Alfozan on Unsplash

You are naked but for the spangle-flecked blanket, all tiddlywinks, stars and sparkles, enfolding you like a seashell’s whorl,

a superhero’s cape,

an all-purpose excuse for avoiding entanglements that might pierce your flesh or leave even the slightest, faintest trace of purpose or pity or something uncomfortably in between —

a bruise of some kind.

Blanketed, you stride down the avenue like Lady Godiva without her horse, the streaky fabric streaming behind you like a flowing river of golden locks.

Clever how your tender flesh, all hidden and be-layered, denies the witnesses beholding your passage the satisfaction their gnawing hunger…

Photo by USGS on Unsplash

the half-life of uranium
two three five

is seven hundred million years

and to you

this means less than
less than

less than
Emily’s snake parting the grass
like a comb.

Photo by anunay rai on Unsplash

The worst failure of my adult life dwells deep inside my gut forever. I had spent weeks putting together a free event on behalf of an organization I volunteered for. I brought together a music director, singers, actors, and a local celebrity who donated his time. I advertised aggressively.

Finally, the big night arrived. It poured rain. The parking lot was gated and locked. The entrance to the building was unmarked.

Nobody came. Well, two people came, and I knew one of them.

But the show had to go on. I remember exactly how I felt the moment I realized…

Ed Herrera | Freeform | Copyright 2018 Disney Enterprises Inc.

When twenty-something Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens) was fired from her new job as a writer on “Incite,” a sizzling digital news platform invented for the TV drama The Bold Type, I found myself reaching back decades to release a deep sigh of recognition. I could relate. A boss who once fired me from a writing job told me he’d been instructed to hire slow but fire fast.

After getting fired in her first week, Jane wishes she could return to her old job at Scarlet, the self-aware glamour mag she left feeling under-appreciated, ready to stretch her wings, and where…

Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash

The Danish cookies sit up in their little white paper cups inside the blue tin, waiting for any of the gathered mourners craving a rush of pebbled sugar. The only one who does is the widow herself. Everyone else is too busy showing off their grief.

But the widow knows she had dispensation to do whatever the hell she wants, and she wants a cookie to stave off a sudden touch of lightheadedness resulting not from grief but from feeling as though hydrogen balloons are billowing beneath her black dress.

She came to me.

Biting down on something hard, chewing…

Photo by Ardi Evans on Unsplash

Who whispered in John’s ear on the rooftop above Savile Row:
Only eleven years to go, man. Think about it.

Who warned Toni or Emily she wouldn’t have time
to ink all the stories onto the pages.

Who sang to the meadowlark, a dangerous tune
of a nest robbed of its fledglings.

Who ran down the side of Mount Vesuvius
lamenting all the unfinished business.

Who counseled Jesus to withdraw from public life
before atrocities could be committed in his name.

Who preached peace in the midst of war,
dying by the hands of violence after all.

Who seeded the clouds from above to force
rain down upon a parched land.

Who came to tell me everyone would be
just fine and really, we can all stop worrying.

Amy L. Bernstein writes for the page, the stage, and forms in between.

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

Amy L. Bernstein

I write to learn — how to think, how to live, how to be — in a world that has never made much sense to me. Novels, essays, poems. Whatever the moment demands.

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