The Obvious Tradition

By Bill Berkson b. 1939 Bill Berkson
I haven’t remembered anything, only the names
and that their dates have been replaced by fees
toted up out of mischief:
a whopping yellow sun, finesse swallowed hard,
a scrapbook in pantyhose dawdling beside some Shreveport-like expanse.
But now you see it, she’s supposed to call.
Surely neither will converse, they merely tell,
succumbing to a disorderly shelf life like Tampax in June.
Salute the budding terminus where the East Side was.
Can there be a way to redefine the tense behind its jaunts,
the pubescent imagery a hand calls forth
as, rippling, it is thrust into the brine?
                                      The phantom tugboat slips along
in depths past Garbo’s awnings and the united glaze
which wilts, harnessing dim signatories in the windows’ sarong.
Do things go further in need as I could? Or are they immune?
How else have I been taught to guess
and then been told to know, because matter equals good?
A silken light masks the entrance to the market proofs of time.

Bill Berkson, "The Obvious Tradition" from Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 2009 by Bill Berkson.  Reprinted by permission of Coffee House Press.

Source: Portrait and Dream: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2009)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Bill Berkson b. 1939


SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Subjects Living, Time & Brevity

 Bill  Berkson


Born in New York in 1939, Bill Berkson is a poet, critic, teacher and sometime curator, who has been active in the art and literary worlds since his early twenties. He is professor emeritus at the San Francisco Art Institute, where, between 1984 and 2008, he taught art history, art writing and poetry; Berkson also served as interim dean in 1992 and directed the Letters and Science and public lectures programs. He studied at . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity


SCHOOL / PERIOD New York School (2nd Generation)

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.