Lily of the Valley

October 10th, 2011

white butterflies
bright diamond
trumpet fanfare
cathedral windows
antique lace
last dance

ice cave

foggy morning
blackheart white
carte blanche
big bang
day lily

midsummer’s eve
pink mystery
red velvet
doe skin
beguiling Eros
Pandora’s box
amethyst temple
sweet surrender
starburst sensation
razzle dazzle

water lily
silk road
bali hai
spice islands
summer palace
tiger babies

October 10, 2011
Pemuteran, Bali, Indonesia

The story: my name means “Lily” in Hebrew and I have been thinking that the flower version suits me best these days…this is what’s called “found poetry” which is an easy, playful way to write poetry….every line in the poem is actually the name of a lily variety! I just had fun arranging them … I am writing this at a cafe in a beach town in the northwest of Bali….just spent the morning snorkeling amazing coral reefs and sitting on the beach….and globalization means I have access to w fi and can upload this poem ;)

The Care and Feeding of a Poet

July 24th, 2011

Two long ones finished this morning….and now this poet needs to go outside for some fresh air!

The Care and Feeding of a Poet

A poet makes a great addition to the household,
but before you decide to adopt, do your homework.
Make sure you have what it takes
to provide a safe and loving home for your new friend.
Poets can be expensive to maintain, impulsive, unpredictable,
they will dine for weeks on nothing but heartbreak and misery,
but in a heart’s beat demand a voluptuous feast,
devour everything in sight, break into your locked cupboards.
They will wrap their lips around each morsel in an ecstasy of delight,
roll fruit on their tongues, suck out every drop of juice
and spit the seeds onto a napkin.

A poet’s housing needs can vary from breed to breed –
for some a bed of thorns will do, or a remote cave
(a threadbare garret in an ivory tower
can really get some tales wagging).
Others strive and thrive in a secret garden of roses,
or a pleasure dome in Xanadu.
Let the needs of your own poet guide you
she might be content to rest quietly beside you.
Wherever she lays her head, don’t assume your poet
is asleep just because her eyes are closed…
she’s awake in her dreams,
where poets do their most important work.

many poets are easily bored and require constant stimulation
or they become moody and withdrawn, even self-destructive,
scratching and clawing to escape their cages
Remember the first rule of first aid for poets:
don’t try to clean or bandage the wound – simply
keep a supply of clean white paper within easy reach,
and let your poet bleed freely onto the page….
never apply stinging ointments; offer instead
sweet healing kisses and encouraging words.

While some poets in measured spaces thrive
that noble line has grown most rare indeed
modern poets prefers their verses freed
of leash and collar.
Take your poet with you on frequent walks outdoors.
Fresh air and exercise are essential.
Don’t expect your poet to come when called.
Poets are difficult to domesticate, and never stay
on the expected path, instead they stray
into wild meadows chasing butterflies,
or ramble into forest sanctuaries after elusive birds,
They will drop your sticks in favor of leaves on the grass,
and point out anything and everything,
the fox and the hare
the clouds in the air
Just when you think the hunt has ended, they draw a blank.

Poets find delight in taking you down a road less traveled,
where you can rest alone with them or in a cozy couplet
on a hillside dotted with clover.
Even the industrious ants will cease their labors
and pause for a long moment with your poet there,
following his gaze to the sun as it breaks free of the horizon,
and awakening to find the moon and stars high above,
close enough to touch them.

Susan Bernardo
July 24, 2011


July 24th, 2011


the first bridge made itself: we reached and fell
like two branches across a sun-drenched stream,
drifted and played in warm shallow water
then danced in the wild and fertile garden beyond
but you could not or would not linger there
left me standing barefoot on the grass
while you returned to your obscure city

I have built for you a thousand bridges,
each span more calculated than my last.
certain one of them would gird your courage,
I studied the stresses, tweaked my designs
to counter the tension points between us
This one cantilevered, the next moon high,
one built of wood, that one from stone and sighs.
Look at my ingenuity, my ability
the steel concealing my fragility
I tried to suspend your disbelief
with endless words…murmured, spoken, shouted
became a pontiff diluting my truth
into an elixir for the masses

I placed a keystone between our joined palms–
and only saw the unequal arches when we
tumbled down, each to our side of the gap
ashes to ashes, we all fall down
together still trussed, but weakened by rust
Each footing I set eroded more
of my shore, still you could not cross over
have you found so soon another lover?
from your vantage, am I masked by cloud?
surely you could still see a nimbus of light
from the lantern raised to guide you home to me

For a time I followed, tried to live there with you
but could not breathe inside that towering maze of boxes.
I wept to see the elements imprisoned
rivers dammed under asphalt armor,
blooming vines tangled, strangled by barbed wires.
I climbed up the next rainbow, slid home to gold
sunrises and green forests
slept deep like a child until the nightmare receded
and it was all dream again
And when I awakened I laughed like the rooster
at the sight of dew on a lily
her petals unfolding gently
no need to hurry or worry, no watches here
Light and love mark my seasons now
eggs and poetry hatch on sunny days
candles and fireflies glow in the dark nights
I dance in moonlight to the music of flowing water and birdsong
and craft flower crowns to celebrate

I could make of my body a new bridge
extend into the vastness between us
replace cold stone and steel with rounded flesh
let you pull yourself across me hand by hand
But I choose to live completely here
on the dancing side of the river fear.
leaving my bridges where they lay
so that others may venture across to play.

–Susan Noelle Bernardo, 7/24/2011

Lazy Susan

June 3rd, 2011

I am still working on “Bridges”….So here is another one I wrote at Esalen last spring, during a workshop with wonderful Ellen Bass.

Lazy Susan

Chinese restaurant, 1970s. You know the place, not fancy, just mom and pop.
On the walls, bamboo scrolls painted with snow-capped peaks, fat feasting pandas.
We order the family dinner for three (although we are four) and soon
the food arrives, appetizers first, the rotating center of our table heavy
with fried won-ton skins, chicken baked tender in triangles of parchment.
There are not enough spring rolls, so my mother gives me hers.
The rice arrives, piping-hot under its notched lid. We use the flat wooden paddle
to spoon it onto our plates, top it with glistening browned beef and broccoli,
crisp-battered pork and pineapple drenched in sweet-sour glaze,.
“They call this a Lazy Susan,” my dad informs us as he spins and delivers
the shrimp with snowpeas. My little sister laughs, chanting ‘you’re a lazy Susan.’
She has a knack for nicknames that rankle
(like ‘Sue-weee,’ the way they call pigs in to slop).

New Year’s in a different restaurant, but the same one really
My parents have morphed into grandparents, with upside down rules -
fortune cookies are the first course. My sister and I are the ones
applying the brakes on this table. Our kids have discovered centrifugal force,
and we fear flying saucers. But at the end of the meal, my oldest son carefully
pours hot green tea into little white cups, adds sugar, and sweetly sends it
around the table to his grandmother, to his aunt, to me.

I imagine her, that first Susan, a farmer’s wife perhaps, tired
of passing the potatoes, convincing her doubting husband (let’s call him Thomas)
to cut her a circle from a scrap of oak in his workshop, sanding and lacquering it.
Reinventing the wheel, at night, after her children are tuckered out and tucked in,
after the cow is milked, the dishes washed, the darned socks sorted.
Blossoming with pride at the next meal, when her children serve themselves,
feeling again the depth of her love for this family, remembering the words
she had inscribed inside her husband’s gold wedding band, “Love without end.”
Until her husband (maybe his name was Richard) jokes to his sons that
their mother will do anything to finish her supper in one sitting.
When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb,
nobody said that he was just afraid of the dark.


Water & the Witch

May 22nd, 2011

I am currently working on a new poem about bridges…I have the first line completed…in iambic pentameter no less! but the rest is coming more slowly….so, I am going to post one of my older poems for you (is that cheating?)! This one’s based on a true story ;)

Water and the Witch
(in which the poet throws her seven-year-old son into the swimming pool to stop his tantrum)
What else was I to do? I had reasoned
and demanded until we’d both exploded
like potatoes in the microwave. I can’t remember
what he wanted, a turn on the computer? For me
to play a game of Life and let him win this time?
Or maybe I wanted something from him, for him
to write out his spelling words more neatly,
put all those plastic toys into a container,
say he was sorry he didn’t do it right
the first time. So I call my husband at work,
let him listen to the shrieking in the background
and he tells me he would throw the kid
in the pool. Which, desperate, I decide to try,
hoisting my son over my shoulder like a firefighter would,
like my great-grandmother heaved sacks of apples,
only my back is not as strong as hers, and
she would have tossed him into the trough
without hesitation. I wrangle the sliding door and
the pool gate. The coltish legs I can’t corral, but
I’m a mother with a mission, and a few bruises
won’t kill me. it’s February and even in Los Angeles
we both know the water will be cold.
He clings to me like a starfish to a rock. I lose
my balance and we fall in together. He’s a strong
swimmer and before I can surface, he is streaking away
to shelter, water streaming footprints onto the dry concrete
He’s locked himself inside the bathroom, yowling and hissing
like a wet cat. I melt to the carpet on my side, dying
to break down the door. I sit for a spell,
talk to him through it, until he unlocks it from his side
and invites me in to wrap him in a warm towel.

Tonic Waters

May 13th, 2011


She wakes from a nap on the sofa.
It is late afternoon. She wants a cocktail.
I offer other tonics – a cup of tea, soft music, conversation.
She stares out the window at the East River,
a slow barge is making its way west.
“Looks like the water’s flowing backwards,” I say.
She tells me it is tidal, the ocean pushing back against
the river currents, muddying the water at the juncture.
I offer to rub her back, ease her pain.
She struggles to find a comfortable position
fingers the device at her chest, where once she cradled my husband.

They call it a port, but really it is a canal.
The Suez, the Panama – channels cut by men into the verdant land
to ferry their loads of lumber and steel, coffee and chemicals.
A thousand upon a thousand laborers leveled the boulders,
Dug the trenches, laid the steel. Left their families behind
to seek a living, their hopeful letters home slowing, ceasing.
In an instant, earth can swallow our engineering marvels
Crumble them to dust, surge over us in a great wash
while we stand with our finger in the dam.

I whisper my hands across the relief map that is her spine,
navigating the ridges and deep valleys.
the lotion disappears into her deflated skin like
water from a canteen spilling onto parched earth.
I want her to be a leaf floating on the water.
I want her to be a drop lifted from the sea, vaporous,
before she rains to earth again.

–by Susan Noelle Bernardo

In loving memory of my mother-in-law, Lolly. She deserved a happier ending…hopefully, she will find it wherever the river of existence carries her next….

Rock n’ Water

May 11th, 2011

This poem was inspired by a trip to Leo Carillo Beach…I went to go tidepooling but got my tides table mixed up and arrived to find the waves crashing high up on the rocks. So I pulled out my ever-handy journal and started writing down ideas…imagining the frothy crash of waves against the rocks as a sort of dance,with the boulder as man and the water as a feminine dancer in white ruffled skirt. From there it just grew and grew, as I played with all the ways in which rocks and water come together….

Rock n’ Water

I am water, and he is rock.
Ours is an ancient attraction
of seeming opposites,
a complicated marriage.

We come together in many places, waltzing dreamily
amid limestone pillars and chandeliers in dazzling underground caverns,
or marveling at each other’s crystalline structures on snowy peaks.
Sometimes, I spring up to surprise him in his quiet retreats –
he faithfully lifts me high into the sky
with a belly laugh of heat.

We have our struggles – what lovers don’t?
Heaven knows, he has his faults, and I can be shallow.
I like to have my way, and when he is slow to find his,
I impatiently trickle down the face of his towering monolith
wedge myself there in tight cold places, shivering,
my ice expanding against his granite, decomposing him a bit
so that eagle-borne seeds can take root and soften him further.
When he falls headlong from the heights, I pick him up and tumble him along,
smoothing and polishing his jagged edges until we gleam together in the sunlight.

Sometimes when he’s had his fill of me,
he deserts me for his dusty cave, dwelling there
with spined and scaled creatures, who struggle to survive without me.
Hot, bothered by his resistance, I storm away, high into the clouds,
until at last he relents with a sigh of sand, and I
pour down upon him, a flash flood of desire,
merging us into mud, making him my own again, carving ravines which
snake across the desert floor, quenching the barren landscape
until it explodes with brilliant color.

Our favorite rendezvous is the intertidal zone,
where we meet to dance morning and night.
I hurtle myself forward as he stands solemnly at the edge
and he catches me, strong and hard, spins me high with a swirl of foam,
a Spanish dancer flourishing my petticoats of lacy white.
Laughing, I cling to him before I flow down his side and back out to sea.
I race forward again and again, higher and higher,
until he is submerged beneath me.

The tender things that take refuge in his hollow places,
protected by sturdy shells and a wet blanket,
come out to play with us then –
the sea anemones open like exotic flowers,
mussels extend delicate tongues to sip the rich brine,
a hermit crab makes itself vulnerable, scurrying across our sea bed
toward a larger shell home, and the brittle sea stars tangle themselves
into their exuberant tango and we feel joy fully.
I sing him a love song I learned from the whales,
my voice rippling the golden forest of kelp that holds fast to him below.
He tells me the riddles he has learned from the sun and wind
and the winged things that ride between them.
But all too soon mother moon tells me it is time to go
I lap tenderly at his feet a few moments more,
then reluctantly pull away to my deep self.

Soon I am cresting with the dolphins, rejoicing in the currents
which take me to distant shores, plunging my own depths and maelstroms
until I become dizzy with them and find myself alone in the dark,
blinded by phosphorescent lures
feeling bottomless, and so cold
until he touches me there in the deep, and I remember that he is here,
everywhere, supporting me, moving me,
providing the heat flowing up and through me,
that he is liquid like me at the core,
a magnanimous molten river, erupting and cooling to form new land
where we can dance once more at the edges between us .

Susan Noelle Bernardo

Spin Cycle Wire Sculpture

May 5th, 2011

Just completed this today in my sculpture class at WLA community college. She is about 30″tall, including the tree stump ;)   Note: she is balanced on Charlie’s old training wheel…the impetus for the Spin Cycle poem.

Spin Cycles

May 4th, 2011

It’s late at night, and I should be sleeping…. but I have been tweaking a poem that I started two days ago.  It’s about motherhood, among other things, and I keep thinking about a conversation I had with a mom at school today.  We’d never met, and I asked her “what do you do?” (a dangerously loaded question on the schoolyard) and she said “I’m just a mom.”  How often have I said that myself  ‘just a mom’ – with that exact self-deprecating shrug and smile.  When really, producing a baby is like  pure magic – the ultimate act of creativity – and to be a good mother requires bringing that level of creativity to work day in and day out, 24/7/365. …no matter what crazy turns the day brings.  So here it is..and there’s a wire sculpture in the works to go with it….pictures to follow when it’s complete.

Spin Cycle

I remember the day I removed his training wheels.

I ran behind the bike, steadying him,

before letting go with a final forward push.

he wobbled wildly, until he found his balance

and could steady himself –

he discovered his center of gravity, and mine shifted again…

just yesterday he was inside me, a seed, ripening

heavy-melon lushness arching my spine, widening my pelvis

into the mama waddle of weight and counter-weight.


Another dancer calls me ‘spin-crazy.’

I can’t get enough of it.  Something in me

needs this release, this twirling blur, this dizzy rush, this dance

with my own child self.  They’ve taken the carousels out of the playgrounds,

but a consenting adult can fall at her own risk.

I have never been one for small steady steps.


Where does balance begin?

in the bony labyrinth of the inner ear, the vestibular realm –

just past the hollow snail-shell spiral of the cochlea,

there are triple loops,

canals containing fluid which moves

with us… each cartwheel, pirouette, tumble

translates fluid pressure

into electric signals

communicating first with our eyes, showing us where we stand

before informing our muscles how to keep us upright.


(I remember the last ear infection, the pressure of his pain

spiraling me into another sleepless night, until the eardrum ruptured

in a rush of pus and blood, and our tears subsided)


Vertigo occurs when tiny crystals in the cochlea lose their way.

Dislodged into the canals, they impede the easy flow of liquid, deceiving us,

making us believe that we are spinning

when in fact we are standing still

or sitting serenely in lotus position

and the only thing turning is the earth herself

This balancing act, this dance of life, requires practice

the years spin away from the center, stars in an infinitely-expanding universe

leaving me longing for the black Velcro wall of the Gravitron to contain me


Back on the dance floor I twist around the perimeter,

a rotating column of air and energy and accumulated debris

(for a vortex to be classified as a tornado, it must be in contact

with both the ground and the cloud base)

pulling seeking  gathering releasing

converting rotational energy into forward motion,

until landfall seems imminent.   I stop,

plant my bare feet strong against the wood planks

like a seasoned sailor riding the waves of  a hurricane,

laughing, I break through the storm wall and it dissipates

into the calm eyes at the center.

–Susan Bernardo, 5.1.2011


Poetry dances through clay…

May 1st, 2011
Last year, I signed my kids up for a ceramics class at a private studio called “Creative Ceramics”…the teacher, Kristin Davis, recognized my longing in the way I hovered over my kids’ work (helicopter parenting?) and she wisely and generously handed me a ball of clay and told me to make my own art.  I soon realized that sculpting fires the same neurons in my brain as poetry and dance … a three-part harmony! which has led to several ‘sculpture poems.’   Here is one from the fall of 2010….

She is Not

No elle…she is not

who she used to be

not the self she thought she would become

She is loss and pain, sorrow and loneliness

Hollow at the center where something has been

cut out with a  chisel

washed away with blood

Leaving jagged dark places that refuse to be filled

with cotton wool or comfort foods, alcohol or anger


To draw a picture of emptiness

is impossible

like drawing the wind

you can only draw its effects

The deflating of a balloon

The leaves on the trees trembling

The hawk circling over the meadow


how much pain is in a hole this wide, and so deep?

on the forest floor a hole is soon filled

with fallen branches,  dessicated leaf skeletons

organic matter, every bit essential

rain and worms and time transform what has died

into nourishment for new life


without love there is no loss

but love can never be lost

Someday she will use this pain

the seeds of new joy will take root in it

and seek the sunlight.

This poem explores my feeling surrounding my identity and the actual giving up of my middle name Noelle when I got married (putting my maiden name into the middle instead).  Now that I have separated, I am slowly bringing Noelle back into the light….and have started using it to sign some of artwork and poetry again. The poem also works through residual emotions from a miscarriage I had 10 years ago.  Thank you to Kristin for beautifully staging this photo of my little figurine.