Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live

Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live

by Monica Berlin
Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live

Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live

by Monica Berlin

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Monica Berlin’s Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live resides at the turbulent confluence of relentless news cycles and the repeated rending of our interior lives. In Berlin’s poetry sorrow makes its own landscape—solitary, intimate, forward-looking. Whether we attempt to traverse it or choose bypass, her poems show us where we live, how we carry on.

These poems notice the day in the wind, the night tucked up to the train tracks, and a slipping-in of yesterday, memory-laden, alongside the promise of a more hopeful tomorrow. Here is the Midwest, vibrant and relic, in the ongoing years of collapse and recovery. Here the constant companionship of weather lays claim to its own field of vision. Here, too, devastation: what’s left after. Berlin reminds us we are at the mercy of rivers, oceans, earth, wind, rain, blizzard, drought, and each other. “Maybe what I mean / to say is that I’ve come to see all the names we might / recognize destruction by,” Berlin’s speaker discovers. “We might / sometimes, stupidly, call it love.”

On her familiar prairie of lyricism and tumult, beauty and ruin, Berlin’s poems insist, plead, and seek to reassure. In a collection both mournful and urgent, both a “little book of days” and a song, this poet meditates on loss, wonder, and always the consolations of language. 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780809336838
Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
Publication date: 10/11/2018
Series: Crab Orchard Series in Poetry
Edition description: 1st Edition
Pages: 88
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Monica Berlin is a professor of English at Knox College in Illinois. She is the coauthor, with Beth Marzoni, of No Shape Bends the River So Long, winner of the 2013 New Measure Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Kenyon ReviewCincinnati ReviewColorado ReviewTheJournal,Ecotone, and Diagram.


Read an Excerpt


up to my neck, the light just coming on, another

day's tiny disasters waiting to knock against us,
to knock us over. In beds we're most reminded

of our smallness, coming in & out of sleep
to the sound of the scraping plow, the garbage truck's

heaving, a wail of sirens. Once, curled up & sheltering
against that raining city in an oversized hotel room,

I watched dancers in their studio blocks away,
their pirouettes, their pliés. Even at a distance

how unbearable that grace, how clumsy we are
even not moving. & this, what's most

worried the finish from: our own
proportions to the rest of the things

in our way. I'm not saying we spend our whole lives
palm-scraping slick cement, or tumbling down,

or cornering the bed's frame, although these days-
rough-shinned, bruised-up-& now winter

refusing to ease. In this brisk, want: something
handheld, manageable; my body, held tight;

a month pocket-sized, like summer
in a jar; like my once-small

speck of a boy before he really was,
like miniature, like nearly invisible; snow like

someone's idea of snow, some dream of snow.


the glass pane, floor to near-ceiling high, sealed for a decade,
& when trying to place the rusty screen, the wind carried it out,

away, all those stories down. Between falling objects & this first
spring afternoon light, I read a tiny book whose title we can't say

because we don't distinguish it from what came just before,
that September date turned pale. All the while, I kept

picking up the phone to ring your house, where you weren't,
to tell my friend, who also wasn't, who's burning it down

one drape at a time-in your absence or because of it-how
suddenly I was what's burning, this raging in me. Ruin fingers

its way into everything. On the stairs, where I'd rushed
to be sure no injuries were sustained by the falling, I ran

into a boy I know & led him away to speak of stars, which,
he said, are failing him. I almost took his hand.


all. Not by touch. Not even muscle memory. In this town smalled
by proximity to water, slowed by distance to shoreline or tide,
where I've been now longer than I've been anywhere, I've taken
to retraining my body the routes disrupted. Even traffic
patterns-what light, what sign, what turn-only lane-broken.
For months that underpass closed, that overpass going up, &
now another fire, one that guts a half block where once a boy I
loved climbed through a window to open a door for me to walk
through & we knelt together in a kind of light I've spent years
trying to replicate-the closest to holy I've known-& these days,
it's all going up again, closed down again, blocked off or rerouted,
& getting lost to find new ways out is another
complication on an already indecipherably creased map, one
I never thought I'd need to untuck from where it was folded all
those years ago. Which is to say every street I turn down detours.
Which is really to say these days there's no other choice. Which is
to say the more beautiful the building the more flammable.
Which is to say the more delicate the thing the easier it's gone.


& the light diffused by a fog so unwinter-like we couldn't
say with certainty that this was even something close to some

variation, we thought what time had become was something
suspended, something halted like the season itself, held small

in our palms or tucked in a pocket, forgotten & then
washed, that kind of, which is not really at all but

omission-the morning an elision, winter elided, our bodies
knowing only the thin rubbings erasers leave behind. That that

morning undone by light was something far short of miracle,
we are learning this year to winter here means let it go-.

Means even this gauzy sky will betray. Means even our hearts
here, where the horizon goes on & on, will turn to look toward

where-in another year there'd be only white, endless for miles-
the fields are stripped bare, stilled & waiting, kept waiting.

Table of Contents

Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live 1

What a year looks like: drenched. So soggy here. So much 5

No apples on the apple tree this summer, & if there were 7

Another late summer early quiet blue-skied morning, my son 9

On either end of this year, on either end of every goddamn year 11

When we turn the calendar's page, my little boy looking 12

The dark flurry of another morning purred 14

This afternoon the sky's making the kind of promises it can 15

Days the hours are no more fact than the unbelievable 17

Sometimes being here is like 19

To scale, yes, days to scale, even when they grow so cluttered 22

Just before the blood draw the other morning, I filled in small 24

We loved the rush hour most, the cars suit-filled, briefcase-heavy 29

Today, three flights up, with my whole body, I lifted 30

Some disasters are given names, others called after 31

The truth is I have trouble forgiving most things, although I've never minded 32

By rote the body learns nearly everything, after 34

It's true. There are places we'd rather be 35

Not quite another season, but almost, & on the window ledges 36

How I wish more things I read I misread, like the bodies in the mine 37

Because you're still in another time zone disparate things 38

The problem is the revolving door, this 39

Because I wasn't thinking/peninsula 41

If there's a joke more complicated than "knock-knock," more 43

Too lazy to lip-read in noisy rooms, the other night 44

A kind of stutter, that over & 45

Down the hall the accordion man turns into a door 47

Long before the horse pulls up lame there is the matter 48

Back to this wind, up against it even 51

The linens soften, now threadbare, just as I'm waking, small, in this 54

When morning was almost unrecognizable as morning 55

What the wind kicks up, what the waters trouble, even 56

The forecast's calling tor flurries tomorrow, & worry 58

At the new year, in the dark, I watched time 59

The lesson tonight nothing less than 60

In this, this snow-brightened light of a near-spring morning, I think of his glass 61

How quickly the body, when asked, forgets 62

Stay mouthed through 63

How quiet every end when it comes, briefest glimpse of a future 64

If all the love we'll know is the kind of love 65

Because all day the sky held back 66

Not only the night 67

Notes 71

Acknowledgments 73

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