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  • Four Hands Improvising on a Piano
  • Paula Marafino Bernett (bio)

I’m a poet by temperament. My poems look deeply at duality, at the blending and shifting of polar opposites, at the mind’s forays into language and association as the drivers for inquiry into the dilemmas and dimensions of our lives. I’ve keyed into the wanderings and minings of my own mind, and observed, often with deep amazement, how those wanderings find purchase within the lives and minds of others, as theirs do in mine.

One thing both is and is not the other, and that is what the lyric essay improbably captures and delivers in its outstretched hands to its readers. One must abandon what is often a lifelong effort to push the walls apart, to keep the is and the is not entirely separate, to avoid the blur of noes and yeses. Rather, the lyric essay invites the reader to embrace the contradiction, to allow what has been insistently knocking on the doors of one’s life to finally enter, to go where the mind, indeed the whole self, may have feared to go.

A perfect amalgam of poetic strategy and essayistic rigor, the lyric essay comes bareheaded, hat in hand, unarmored, leading the way through thickets of intellectual strata and slipping under locked doors. It dives deeply into its own mind, offering us the thrill of exploration into frontiers we may well have believed were closed to us. It pays muscular homage to both poem and essay. And within their union, it confers the liberty for each to operate at its maximum individual power, all the while keeping a close eye on the other.

As my writing mind seizes on an idea and begins to let it carom around my consciousness, it gathers fragments of this and that, chunks of old ideas and slivers of revelation fresh-minted from who knows where. Anomalous snippets somehow stick to it like windblown cattail seeds. When the turning, churning [End Page 129] tangle of ideas becomes round and dimensional, the writing begins, and the challenge to achieve a rapprochement between the managing, overseeing intellect and the relentless, accumulating power of the existential idea itself must be met. That is the trick of it, demanding a kind of soothing of the mind’s ruffled feathers, which inevitably respond with iridescence.

That is how “Digression and Memory: The Handmaiden Effect” began to find its round, dimensional, pushing-out shape, and then allowed itself to travel a linear but zig-zaggy path through its developing content. Here’s a note I wrote myself during the process:

When we see/discover the truth, we copy it into ourselves, where it settles into the crucible of itself.

Our exterior experience is always tethered to its interior, mirror image. Even the tiniest experiential moment naturally gravitates toward its rightful place in the mind.

As I began to be privy to the perceived truth and its interior image, clusters of such pairings swam into view. How does the mind generate and then incubate those intimacies? The answer seemed to lie in the connection between digression and memory. Much longer in its early drafts, the original essay, called “The Mosaic of Memory,” contains steering ideas like these:

Led by a “looking for” thought, we begin to see its evidence in everything. The thought “memory is imagining” becomes the receptor filter for sight, sound, taste, smell, and even touch.

When I think “blue,” I see the hue in everything—the blue stripe sandwiched between red and white on the side of a metropolitan bus, the blue in the smoke of its exhaust, the blue seeped into the hand lifting a child up the blue-steel stairs.

Think “lonely,” and I smell it in a leaf hammocking to ground, with every iota of descent hoping to attract, by its sheer delicate beauty, a catching hand or a shoulder to settle on. I touch it in every drop of sweat pouring down the trembling leg of a cyclist—the leg that curls its knee into its chest in a chilly bed at night. I hear it in every imprint of a child’s bite in a sandwich lying on...


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pp. 129-131
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