Tiny Hand-cuffs: Poems by Dennis J. Bernstein


A Granddaughter Speaks 

The first shotgun blast
blew away my grandmother’s wrist.
The next one took the top of her head off.
She was sixty-seven and hobbled by arthritis.
City said she was late on her rent.
The fifteen cops on the SWAT team
said it was a clean shoot, textbook
self-defense. But I remember when
the killer lion escaped from the Bronx
Zoo last year; the zoo keepers hit her
with a sleep-dart, instead of blowing
her head backwards fifteen feet.

(for the family of Eleanor Bumpers)




Esperanza’s Story: Hope on the Run

I was in mama’s belly
when the Soldiers came.
Everyone was praying.
I was playing in the darkness
when they shot me
through Mama’s belly,
an hour before I was born.
Mama climbed out a window
and gave me life in a rolling van.
That’s why she says I can’t sit still:
I was born on wheels.
My name is Esperanza,
and that means hope—
That was the name of the boat
that floated us to freedom.




Day-Dreaming Until the Cows Come Home

Paulie slips out of his name like it’s an old sweatshirt.
He slips out on a whim, floats through the window
on a tiny swirl of warm wind. He counts skyscrapers
and multiplies clouds until the cows come home
with the lunch milk, and with today’s gourmet menu
of barbecued beef and Yellow and Red Fruit JELL-O.




God’s Hand

T.J. comes to school a few more times, after his mother killed his father. He tells me his baby brother is doing time in his mom’s belly. He says the cops have tiny hand-cuffs they put on kids when they get born in jail: They learn how to crawl with one wrist cuffed to the crib. Last night, T.J. saw god’s hand outside his window, with the key to free his mom: When he rushed out to grab it, god’s hand turned into a pair of coveralls, blowing around on the clothesline.

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About Dennis J. Bernstein

Dennis J. Bernstein lives in San Francisco and has been a longtime front line reporter specializing in Human Rights. His articles have appeared widely including in the Boston Globe, New York Times, The Progressive, and The Nation. Bernstein was chosen by Pulse Media as one of "20 Top Global Media Figures of 2009." Bernstein's artist books, co- authored with Warren Lehrer, are in the Special Books Collections of the Museum of Modern art in New York City and other major museums around the world. Bernstein's poetry has appeared in the New York Quarterly, Chimaera, Bat City Review, The Progressive, Texas Observer, ZYZZYVA, etc. SPECIAL ED is Bernstein's first full collection of poetry.

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