Kim Bridgford


New poems from the collection Bully Pulpit



Is a feeling, swinging on the hour,
Its thick intention hanging like a tire.
Smash, wreck, hurt, undulate, destroy.
For evil holds within itself a joy

Of taking goodness by the hand, so pure
You wouldnít know the difference from a flower.
Like love, it is a hot and sudden arrow.
Like shame, it layers time with fig-leaf sorrow,

And pulls the curtain wing-spread off a fly,
With iridescent viciousness, to splay
The intersection between do and donít.
Itís clear the bitter message thatís been sent.

Donít underestimate it: that hot note
That whispers in your ear and cuts your throat.

                                                               For the victims of bullycide

This sonnet is for Debbie Shaw, Michaela
Kendall, Roger Hillyard and for Kelly Yeomans.
This sonnet is for those who felt the demons
Of othersí rage: for Darren Steel, Melissa
Chamblis. And itís for those who reach for pills,
For guns, for help, for sympathy, for rope.
This poemís for Stephen Windhall, and for hope.

And where are all the names of those who took
The vulnerable and weak and made a hook?
Some call these troubled children, either side.
But itís the victims, hopeless, who have died.

Somewhere the fragrance of compassion spills.

This sonnet will give voice to Brian Head.
And Jared Benjamin High is also dead.


Iím tired of all the games: the giant swan,
The other transformations you tried on.
With every thought equated to an action,
You didnít blame yourself. Just liked the sheen
Of fear tied up in rope, and stiff with blood.
You liked the way you shamed and sullied good.

But listen to me now: Iím done. Iím human,
Sick of all the things gods do to women,
Your narcissism clear, your shifting weathers,
The sudden suffocation by your feathers.

Iím cleaning myself off, to find a moral.
See yourself for what you are: a debacle
On a cloud. On earth, we find it different, Zeus.
Look: all the ropes you tied me with are loose.


They decided to destroy us, Father,
And, in the end, there was nothing we could do.
Your neediness was like the weather:
They saw the sun, and rain, and moon in you.

I always loved you, your hyperbole;
You loved my candle, plain and ordinary.
To ask me to be different in your yearning
Was to set your kingdom, and your conscience, burning.

Sometimes it takes restraint, not just the show
That fractures all the earth, and sky, with snow.
Father, there are things you do not want to know.
One is that moments change us, even now.
Nights pass. You weep. Blood colors all with dread
And words that never meant the things they said.


Is it just Eden weíre talking about, ducking guiltily
Out of the dark wood, the sodden mysteriesó
What we could have been and what we can still be,
But arenít? Shame settles like a fierce whiff
Of stench along the rib cage. The gate is iron; the bars are cold.
The angels, unfathomable as a lost language,
As elaborate as hieroglyphs, stand with their feathers stiff,
White, and unextended, like a promise
No one can be forced to bear. What I am saying is,
Is it in us? Not a place? The moment between the way we shine
And the way we donít? Even a woman on a cell phone
Pushing an elderly woman out of the way
In a supermarket, or a harsh epithet
Yelled out of callousness or hurt,
About race, or age, or gender, or sexual orientation,
Makes me want to weep. Why do we give up?
Why are we silent? Once my cousin told me
About how she had been asked, at seven,
To clean the grout in the bathroom with a toothbrush,
Those fierce long lines leading everywhereó
And later was slapped for touching drapes, for doing this,
For not doing that, and couldnít
Have a birthday party, although her sister could,
Not the Barbie birthday cake, Barbieís sweet white frosting dress,
And those perfect lips, thin as a rosebud curl,
Not even the balloons:
And these things surface like hot sticky insects
Out of a marsh gone putrid with rage,
Years later. The drinks pile up.
It matters who makes the decisions. It matters
Who is in control. The quiet in the dark,
And a teen watches her screen light up
In the scent of her own lip gloss, her delight
At her age and the candle-lit belief in human goodness, which
Is Eden after all, the wind blowing its age-old touch
Of forgiveness through the fruit-bearing trees; then words
Take her spirit and fling it down, the way a dog does
A rabbit, something quick and mean and unawares,
A velvet rag gone still. By morning
She is dead; sheís out of it now.
She couldnít stand what theyíd been saying, until she couldnít
Stand herself. Iíve been there too, been bullied like that,
And itís both intimate and general, like someoneís
Kicked you in the teeth, and forgotten who
You are. If Eden is in us, then so is hell. And this was at work.
I saw a movie where a man convinced himself he loved a woman, believed
In his own myth to such a point that when she told him,
Just before she died, that he made her sick, that she
Had only done what she had to do to survive,
He pissed on her. What he had loved
Was hating her, as finely tuned as a wine
That people wait decades to savor in the back
Of their mouths. But her crime
Was saying what was true. So there. The last dollop
Of pee as if she was just the dirt
Itself. You can think that what you do alone
In the dark, you can think that what you do
Doesnít have consequences, but someone
Is always watching. And those angels,
What do they say?, hanging out at the garden,
Their white soft texture like creased vintage capes
Far-flung with pearls, and flickering, flickering
In and out of the trees. What do they say to
Kicked? Clubbed? Attacked by dogs?
Waterboarded? That these people are ruined?
That their lives are ruined?
When I was younger, and pulled a thread,
Thatís the term they used, ďruined.Ē
Thatís how you did it to a sweater,
And sometimes you couldnít help yourself.
You would pull until it made you want
To see the puckering, to see the fine clean line
Made into something you destroyed. Donít pull, you were told;
Leave it alone. At a certain point, things could still be fixed;
You could show restraint, could nurse it almost whole.
Yet if you knew you had reached a limit to yourself
And couldnít do good, couldnít face your own sorry self,
You did thatópulledóso that if you couldnít be God in the world,
You could at least be other than yourself, you could
Escape into this lost and ruined thing. Destroy it even.
People suffer, they go on. Thatís our nature,
Even with the gate swung shut. Yesterday,
Inside a market, a man yelled at me,
And I turned in a crowd of strangers,
To hear him say. ďYou dropped your glove.Ē
It seemed like a rose on a stage, dramatic as a bird,
Sprawled and woolen. I kneeled
To pick it up. When I gestured ďThank you,Ē
You would think the heavens had opened.
Eden. No wonder they left. Itís so hard. Looking
Back at all that blissful shining, the long last lick of innocence, who can
Stand it? Yet who can stand anything
Without it?


You put your head up past the world, red dress
Dropping its petals back. And now the top,
Followed by a zip code sky address.
You just have to be willing to look up.

Good-bye illuminated, lost late skin,
To tell you all the past youíve walked out in.
Welcome the ferrying texture of the fern,
The tight embroidery, and then the turn

Where soul steps barefoot out onto the air,
(No corrugated strap: just open stair).
Each step a footprint rubbing out the price
Of rotten pennies, leaves, and sacrifice,

You never thought it was so easy, this
Kiss before you knew it was a kiss.


The hall is burning, Barton Fink,
And nothingís going quite as planned.
Nothing is quite what you think:

Your self-absorption at the sink.
In theory, lifeís at your command,
But the hall is burning, Baron Fink.

The shoes, lined up for polish, stink
Of all the things that really happened.
Nothing is quite what you think:

Murderís left its heady ink,
And holding it, you play pretend.
The hall is burning, Barton Fink.

You need some drama, and a shrink.
Itís living that makes life profound.
Nothing is quite what you think.

Your prose has no one else to thank.
Youíve lived your work, too tightly wound.
The hall is burning, Barton Fink.
Nothing is quite what you think.


                                                                   For Ryan White

Blood is blood. It doesnít have your name,
Your personality, your goals, your favorite
Color and all the things that make triumphant
The individual experience you frame.

How people like to give a lasting taste
To something, label unknown things a crime.
Itís what the mean in us does all the time.
The disease was new, and you were just its host.

Courage has a name. It gets up every day.
It wears a sadness that others will not touch.
It learns itís best not to expect too much.
It learns that bullies rule and fear the day.

Words: AIDS, hero, hemophiliac.
Once words are said, you cannot take them back.


                                                                  For Rosa Parks

Sit down. Take years of tired off your feet.
Take othersí problems, and give them a voice.
Try not to think of hoses, dogs, and hate,
Or what will happen when you make a choice.

Sit down. It feels so good. The dignity,
The claim youíve made to innate humanness.
And once you do it, it becomes so easy:
To be in love with almost-permanence.

When I sit down, I think of you, the ride
Through history that you would then engage.
Determination rides on tears of rage
And makes them tears of reconciliation.
They are the kind of tears that heal the nation.
Itís in the transformation historyís made.


They mistranslated ďtextĒ and thought the ďweaveĒ
Was a material, through which Iíd grieve
And keep my suitors at the door, undoing
A dayís work. Naturally, I liked to keep them going,
Keep them patient, while I waited for Ulysses.

But text is writing; text is a catharsis.
And Iím clairvoyant with a spouseís mourning,

Please know in twenty years something is burning:

Not just the towers, smoke in every heart,
But all the bitterness of time apart.
The journey thatís interior has weight,
Outside the ship and all affairs of state.
Iím writing and rewriting: not done quite.
To say something, you have to say it right.


Enjoy your body now: of course, you wonít.
Itís later that youíll stagger with your want
And see the faces turn away from you.
Without their gaze, you wonít have much to do.

Donít need the spotlight? Darling, look at me:
Inside this house with Max, Joe, and the monkey.
Think this is what I want? And you are less,
Because youĎre ordinary, your caress
Just like the touch of others, who are lost:
Pennies to my dollar, found and tossed.

Take my lighter, Sweetheart. Light your way.
Be other than yourself. Be devotee
Of that one face to launch a thousand screens.
Without me, you donít know what romance means.


Copyright © Kim Bridgford 2012


Kim Bridgford was educated at the University of Iowa, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude, and with honors in English (B.A. 1981). She was a teaching-writing fellow (1982-83) in the poetry program at the Iowa Writersí Workshop (M.F.A. 1981-83), and received a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship (1986-88) while in the doctoral program at the University of Illinois, focusing on American women poets (A.M.1983-85; Ph.D. 1985-88).

Afterwards she taught as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Hamilton College (1988-89); an Assistant Professor of English at Fairfield University (1989-94); an Associate Professor at Fairfield University (1994-2002); and as a Professor of English at Fairfield University (2002-10).

During her tenure at Fairfield University she brought the writing program to national prominence through a visiting writers series, an award-winning national journal, and student opportunities including appearances on NPR, participation in global projects, participation in an oral history project involving the 2008 CNN Hero of the Year, award-winning chapbooks, scholarships to the Juniper Institute and West Chester University Poetry Conference, and graduate school placements at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, the University of Houston, Sarah Lawrence, and Emerson.

While at Fairfield, Bridgford became known as one of the best writing program directors in the United States and as a teacher of national reputation, selected as Connecticut Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1994), and twice nominated as U.S. Professor of the Year (1994, 2006).

Currently, Bridgford is the director of the West Chester University Poetry Center and the West Chester University Poetry Conference, the largest all-poetry writing conference in the United States (2010-Pres.). During her first conference, she featured Robert Pinsky as her keynote speaker; held a 90th birthday party for Richard Wilbur; negotiated a Romare Bearden exhibition of thirty rarely seen pieces during Beardenís centennial year; and brought speakers such as Farai Chideya of NPRís News and Notes; Howard Dodson, director of the Schomburg Center; and Michael Cirelli of Urban Word to the conference. For the first time, there was a seminar on Forms of the African American Experience, drawing as participants some of the best African American scholars and slam artists in the United States.

As editor of Mezzo Cammin, she was the founder of The Mezzo Cammin Women Poets Timeline Project, which was launched at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington on March 27, 2010, and will eventually be the largest database of women poets in the world. This event drew such artists as Somi, whose latest album debuted at #2 on the World Billboard Chart; Alicia Ostriker; Annie Finch; and readers such as Rhina P. Espaillat, Molly Peacock, and Terri Witek.

Bridgford is the author of five books of poetry: Undone (David Robert Books. 2003); Instead of Maps (David Robert Books, 2005); In the Extreme: Sonnets about World Records (Story Line Press, 2007), winner of the Donald Justice Prize; Take-Out: Sonnets about Fortune Cookies (David Robert Books, 2010); and Hitchcockís Coffin: Sonnets about Classic Films (David Robert Books, 2011). Her work has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the Poetsí Prize, and five times for a Pushcart Prize. She was the 2007 Connecticut Touring Poet, a series that has featured authors such as James Merrill, Robert Pinsky, X. J. Kennedy, and Donald Justice.

In addition to publishing over four hundred poems, she has published nearly thirty stories, nearly twenty articles, and over fifty book reviews. Bridgford has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1999-2000) and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts (2003), as well as the Robert E. Wall Award at Fairfield University, given to one faculty member per year for extraordinary research (2007). Her work has appeared on The Writerís Almanac with Garrison Keillor, four times on Verse Daily, and has been honored by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada. She has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Connecticut Post, the website of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and in various headline news outlets.

She wrote the introduction to Russell Goingsí The Children of Children Keep Coming, an epic griot song, and joined Goings in ringing the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange when the book was released, a week before the Obama Inauguration.