“When I Look Ahead Without You” by Jeffery Berg

—after Norma Shearer

When I look ahead without you
everything goes black: a gown
with sheer sleeves. When I look ahead

I see an open window for me
to want to dive out of. I see a masquerade ball—
up-thrown white petals, spectacle and can-can—

cold satin between my fingers, running through
white dogwoods with you—my curls shook
loose by guillotine, curls shook loose by shock

therapy. When I look ahead I see myself back-
hand-on-the-forehead weeping—tears glinting,
glitzy as my gimlet raised to the new year.

When I look ahead I see fingernails painted
Jungle Red. When I look ahead I see myself
with muddled memory, lost films entombed

in a mausoleum. I see myself shifting
my fanny as a flapper at a barnyard dance. A great star-
burst of feathers on my pageboy cap, smoke

exhaled, hair slicked into curly Q’s.
When I look ahead I see workmen
plastering, painting statues white, earth dug out

for trees, loudspeakers and ballyhoo—the garden
of Versailles around the theater for the gala—
searchlights ablaze.  I see diamonds and leopard print

and my feet with Jungle Red toenails in the fur
of a polar bear rug. When I look ahead at the day
I die in the Motion Picture

and Television Country hospital, I see a hall
of gray linoleum, a nurse behind a desk
with a little white radio perched

on a stack of papers. Quietly through static
and pink plastic speakers thrums
“Every Breath You Take.” Cigarettes, chocolate cake

and a ukulele foxtrot to “Singin’ in the Rain”
sprightly on the broadcast. Like shooting game
when it’s out of season, my plum daffy looks don’t fit

the noirish forties. When I look ahead I see myself in a chair
in a pink bib at the hair salon saying to the stylist in the mirror,
“I’d like to get the Elizabeth Barrett Browning.”

My voice like the walls of a cave wild-
animal scratched. I see myself skipping
merrily around a pool in a white one piece

and a pale blue swimcap. When I look ahead
without you everything goes black. You see me
inhale before the verdict. And for you

and the camera and everyone out there,
I do my best courtroom collapse.


Jeffery Berg grew up in Six Mile, South Carolina and Lynchburg, Virginia. He received an MFA from NYU. His poems have appeared in El Balazo Press, The Good Men ProjectglitterMOB, the LevelerCourt Green, Rove, Map Literary, Assaracus and Harpur Palate, and No, Dear. He has written reviews for The Poetry Project Newsletter and Lambda Literary. A Virginia Center of the Creative Arts fellow, Jeffery lives in Brooklyn and blogs at jdbrecords.