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Things That Burn
The Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry was inaugurated in 2003 to honor the late poet, a nationally recognized author of numerous collections of poetry and a former professor at the University of Utah. Things That Burn by Jacqueline Berger is the 2004 prizewinning volume selected by this year’s judge, former U.S. Poet Laureate Mark Strand. In this evocative collection Berger dissects in ardent language and rich imagery the ways that hunger and longing propel us through our lives, offering the reader a postmortem of passion and desire.
Jacqueline Berger is the author of The Mythologies of Danger, winner of both the 1997 Bluestem Award and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Award. She teaches writing at Notre Dame de Namur University and at City College of San Francisco. She lives with her husband in San Francisco.
From Things that Burn:
What Is Not There
There is a phone booth by the side of the road
with the lights burned out,
you don’t have coins
and outside it has begun to rain.
This is where the soul lives.
Its small voice comes
from what sounds like underwater.
Dismantle your life
you have settled
for too little, though
you may never find more.
You are busy unpacking
in the new house you will come home to
every night, and every night
lie next to the one you have chosen
to ease your weight against.
You will do this for many years,
for as long as it is possible.
The voice sounds like a radio
from the bottom of the lake.
It is announcing news of war,
the conflict of a small country,
a country you think you could locate
on a map, though what you know
of this country is almost nothing.
The body is happy with its good meal,
and the mind with someone to go places with.
The clothes are happy to be piled
on top of each other on the chair,
and the books are content
leaning into each other on the shelves.
But the soul is a bad dog
chained in the yard,
and though there are no intruders,
not even a small animal
rustling in the bushes,
it barks until it wakes you,
wakes the entire neighborhood,
always calling attention
to what is not there,
in the absolute stillness of the night.
Praise and Reviews:
"Perhaps the most striking thing about Jacqueline Berger's poems is their humanity. They are humane in every sense—in their empathy, in their frank sensuality, in their certainties and in their doubts."
—Katharine Coles, author of Golden Years of the Fourth Dimension: Poems
2004 Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry Award