To read Denise Bergman's Three Hands None is to inhabit an intimate accounting of a sexual assault in her bed by a stranger that reduced the writer to "barebones nothing." The accounting is obsessive, almost Steinian in its use of repetition to render the ripping of self that occurred during and after the event, the long days and nights when she "sweated inside matted wool terror filthy as a sheep." The poems that compose the volume read like the raw data of a mind working nonstop to parse the violence that severed her from "a body once her own." They collapse the distance between past and present, silence and speech, material and the metaphor, inside and out. The journey is not for the timid; images climb inside and rake your chest. But Bergman’s supple intelligence—whose "home is the range of one’s instinct"—and mastery of her craft carry her and her reader through: "Word on the street is she still lives there."
Fearless, unsparing, Denise Bergman probes a violent, sexual assault to expose the personal and social consequences of ungovernable, masculinist culture. "Home is the coat that can’t keep me warm or dry/ buttons and holes I can’t align," the poet declares, struggling to rebuild a coherent self. A book-length narrative poem, Three Hands None reveals how "materials for this story" also account for domestic and international tragedies: "the single-eyed babies born in Fallujah" and "strip-mined flattened hills." A single sequence—of narrative, fragment, and image—this original work will leave you breathless, changed.
Listen to author read Three Hands None on Dennis Bernstein’s KPFA radio show, Flashpoints.
Read a review of Three Hands None written by Lee Varon.
Click here to order your copy from Black Lawrence Press.
Untitled (photos of men)
photos of men was it this one that. I tell them I hadn’t seen his face the flashlight melted my eyes
mug shots again was it this one that. I hadn’t seen hadn’t seen
did I smell his breath his underarm stench his filtered or filterless. did he smell me
he watched me. he locked my face naked in detention
he knew who I was knew me when I crossed the street knows who I am knows this is me
knows me. in the grocery aisle he sees me stripped to less than essence
he held me down. the heft of his hand the precise edge of his blade squeezed me pierced me emptied me of substance
I am not playing here with agency
this is what powerless is
barebones and muscleless. skeleton collapsed
lunch became bread and water
motion was turning my head to look at the door
watch the door
thought was imploded chaos. speech was a pageless lexicon
sleep was a useless plan. exhaustion buzzed like a swinging hive
my home my skin locked me out
breakfast was a sip of juice
supper was bread and water. the week after, a fruit
Untitled (a friend suggests)
a friend suggests "compassion" "society" "circumstances." I tell her I don’t care
I don’t care if he was born into a tangled skein of back-stabbing brothers. so what. wrestled under the see-saw kicked in the face on the slide. I don’t care. told tough it out don’t cry no dolls god forbid no Lamb Chop but plastic characters whose names end in thron and mutant transformers. I don’t care. high fives slaps on the back never an embrace do I care. no. army boot camp be all you can be not who you want to be. I don’t care. my dog would have lived a simple dog life and I after forty-one years would be writing about the mockingbird mimicking a squirrel to scare the neighbor’s cat or about medical supplies blockaded from entering Gaza. do I care if his father left town his uncle pulled him into the woods. no. what is beaten out of the boy what is forced into the beaten-down boy so what. I don’t care
I slept through the rattling unoiled half-broken sash cord rollers. I slept through his steps on the floor. a moon was somewhere and somewhere was rain
blood on my shirt from my mouth never washed out. do I care where he came from. no. I don’t care
he had a mother he did. he he he had a mother. she caressed him at least once he knew a caress. do I care. no. I don’t care