Amy L. Bernstein


I mistook a stack of black chairs for a pony waiting to be led away,
a rounded bush for a time portal crouching by the side of the road at dusk,

a bandeau of thickened clouds for mountains beckoning from the horizon,
and a black crow for a discarded tennis shoe dangling from a wire.

My sight is a lie that invents little stories for its own amusement,
or perhaps to deflect my attention from the real real

or shake me awake, shock me back to life,
peel consciousness like an onion, revealing tender layers ripe for static.

Never trust first sightings at first light when
eyelids, like heavy theater curtains, part to reveal fake worlds

sewn and bolted to seduce you into believing
what you see is what is

when your soul’s windows operate only in the dark
where shadows are as sponges soaking up the sea.


“That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people.”
–Heinrich Heine

We already know there is a
Black, brown, or tawny body
for every one of the

twenty-thousand books they burned
in 1933

and many more
too many to count
too many unaccounted for

but there is no monument
to all those lost souls

whereas the Empty Library
is this undeniable thing—
art memorializing charred
paper and glue and bindings

a square hole set into the
cobblestones of Bebelplatz

where the nazis’ frenzied fires burned
near the state opera house

a square hole roofed by glass—

step right up,
step onto the glass,
the vertiginous leap,
heart in mouth

when you look down, down,

into rows of whitewashed walls,
empty concrete bookcases

vanishing toward Earth’s core

enough bookcases for all
twenty-thousand of the cindered,                                                                 

a mahnmal—
a monument to remind us,
warn us,
urge us to do something necessary

but the necessary work is yet undone:

where is our mahnmal
to all those bodies,
missing and remembered?


Objectifying Emily Dickinson on Her Birthday

For her one-hundred-ninety-first birthday, let us gift Emily a brand and a compelling backstory
so we may all the more easily tack her up on the wall, subject her to our adoring gaze,
or pin her to a board, like a monarch whose outspread wings retain traces of
powder under glass.

Let us paste every adjective with a strong glue gun to be sure it sticks—
genius Emily
quirky Emily
shy Emily
secretive Emily
all-knowing Emily
observant Emily
gay Emily
spinster Emily
crazy Emily

Let us say, she was—multiple choice answers will be accepted—

………….an autistic-savant flummoxed by loud society who found security in her own company

traumatized by a gaslighting father

………….undermined by a passive mother

………….emotionally obsessed by a bewitching sister-in-law

abused by a shadow-assailant who took her by force, poisoning her tender self as
………….half-brother George would do to Virginia

Let us say, we know her through and through, know her too well, or not as well as we’d like, or about as well as we ever will,

barring the miraculous recovery of a long-buried attic manuscript, in which she explicates on the inner workings of her brain, with diagrams, along with—bonus material—a chart revealing her scheme of punctuation.

Or let us be honest, for once, and admit that time and foolscap and squinty-eyed scholarship do not admit us—much as we long to grasp keys to a magic kingdom—into the soul of a human being who

before she lay a heap of crumbling bones, as she always knew she would,

drew looping scritches of ink on scraps of paper,
telling us all we ever would or could or should want to know.

Amy L. Berstein

© Amy L. Bernstein

Amy L. Bernstein writes for the page, the stage, and forms in between. Her novel, The Potrero Complex, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing in August 2022 and was a finalist for that publisher’s Petrichor Prize in 2020. The Nighthawkers, a paranormal romance, will be published by The Wild Rose Press. Amy is also the author of a teen novel, Fran, The Second Time Around, which won the Maryland Writers Association’s Best Short Novel contest in the YA category. Poems and prose poems have appeared in Passaic/Voluspa, Yellow Arrow Journal, Erbacce, Scrittura, The Parliament Literary Journal, and elsewhere. She is an award-winning journalist and speechwriter. Learn more at

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