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Critical Praise for the Poetry of William Bernhardt

“William Bernhardt is one of Oklahoma’s and the country’s literary treasures. Anyone doubting that can sit quietly with his new volume of poetry, The Ocean’s Edge, and come away utterly convinced. Part William Carlos Williams (the big picture of our national lives) and e.e. cummings (poetry’s micro-moments), this new book will bring converts to poetry and to Bill’s yeasty vision. This is poetry for those who love reading and want a reminder of why they should read more poetry. They will not be disappointed.”

Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Executive Director of World Literature Today

“Armed with a storyteller’s sensibility and his trademark humor, William Bernhardt writes of…longing and loss, irony and humor, the bittersweet complexities of parenting, the secret dreams of writers. His fiction fans will be delighted as William Bernhardt proves himself to be a compelling new voice in American poetry.”

Rilla Askew, Kind of Kin, American Book Award-winner

“William Bernhardt…combines the novelist’s sure instinct for narrative pace and vivid image and ear for the natural rhythms of the spoken word with the poet’s sensibility in those telling moments that reveal the soul alive to life. Sometimes with wit and humor as well as pathos, these poems in precise, sometimes startling language draw the astonished reader into shared illumination of the joys and sorrows of existence. Bernhardt the poet—and be assured his is truly a poetic voice—deserves attentive reading, and his poems quickly earn our admiration.”

Carl Sennhenn, Nocturnes and Sometimes Even I, State Poet Laureate (2001-2002)

“You know William Bernhardt as a writer of thrillers, but if you read The Ocean’s Edge, particularly, The Housewife, and Circle, and Madeline at the Mall, you will know him as a poet as well—grounded, majestic, hopeful…and funny.”

Jacquelyn Mitchard, New York Times-bestselling author

of The Deep End of the Ocean and Two If By Sea

The Ocean’s Edge

Poems by

William Bernhardt

The Ocean’s Edge © 2016 William Bernhardt. No part of this book may be used in any manner without written consent of the author, other than brief passages and for reviews.

Cover Design: Lionel Ochoa, Zence Imagery

Author Photo: Kimberly Stephens

Interior Design: Lionel Ochoa, Zence Imagery

Red Dirt Press

ISBN: 978-0-9993420-2-2

Table of Contents


Ship of Fools

Lines Composed While Leaving Oxenholme Station

Chatting with the Big Guy

Why Poets Don’t Take Cruises

My Other Life

Sea Change

Mount Vesuvius




More Found Poetry


When You Are Gone


Sonnet #3

Sonnet #4

When the Party’s Over

Sonnet #5



The Storyteller

Ruminations on My New Favorite Movie


Twelve Steps

Removing the Cowl


Favorite Christmas




The Nightingale’s Song

Air Mattress





The Sound of the Suburb

Song of Lara

The Binary Star System

Ralph’s Favorite Painting


The Housewife


February 14

Memo to Chaplin


Eve of Spirit

The New Testament


What Kind of Funeral Do You Want?”

Shadow Box


The Langlois Bridge at Arles



Another Haiku


One Hundred Years of Wonder


Scarlet and Carmine


On the Occasion of Madeline’s 17th Birthday


For Sure

The Ocean’s Edge

Seven Ages


Madeline at the Mall


The White Squirrel

January 4


About the Author

For Carl Sennhenn,

my favorite poet laureate

On the first page of my dreambook

It’s always evening

In an occupied country.

Empire of Dreams,” Charles Simic


Ship of Fools

The Germans stare at me.

They draw on their cigarettes,

eyeing me from a safe distance.

The deckhands have been in a tizzy

cursing in guttural tones

trying to secure a point of embarkation.

Are we doomed to drift forever

a New Age Flying Dutchman,

a plague ship tracing an ethereal path

up and down the listless Rhine,

forever reenacting the daily drudgery:

the ever-recurring cocktail hour

and the Bavarian buffet?

Are we cursed for our sins

to spend a lifetime, or longer

seeing, seeking, never arriving?

Lines Composed While Leaving Oxenholme Station

Visiting Dove Cottage was like visiting

a temple erected to worship a god.

I walked where he walked, thought

where he thought, bought “I wandered

lonely as a cloud” on a tea towel located

just behind the more popular

Beatrix Potter memorabilia.

The train home is packed with people reading

Reveal magazine and The Daily Mirror

eating cheese sandwiches, drinking chilled wine

yammering into their mobiles.

I must be the only one thinking about poetry

but I do not feel

lonely as a cloud

distant as Alpha Centauri.

Even the chatter of others

comforts, the rub of shoulders is

artificial daffodils.

Chatting with the Big Guy

We were talking the other day

just shooting the breeze

and I was feeling rather guilty

so I asked God if it would be okay

if I skipped the book signings this year.

He said, sure.

The PTA meeting?

No problem.

The new Hamlet on PBS?

Knock yourself out, Skipper.

(He loves calling me that.)

You seem very permissive today,

I remarked.

I created people, not prisoners.

I said that’s not the way they taught it

at the First Baptist Church.

That made him smile.

When will you people get it through your thick skulls?

It’s not about being shamed to say no.

It’s about wanting to say yes.

Why Poets Don’t Take Cruises

Sitting on the dock of the blue boat

admiring the Old World eccentricity

of the stretched A-frames

each a different color from its neighbors

rows of symmetrical windows

a hint of motion in the distant foggy backdrop.

I am suddenly aware of a jackhammer.

The sound of metal bit splitting concrete

harsh as the dentist’s office.

This is why they take your passport when you board

but do not issue guns.

How many new apartments does Switzerland need?

I try to imagine the jackhammer playing a part in the symphonic sounds of the city

but imagination fails,

overwhelmed by irritation.

It only takes one dissonant note

to transform tranquility into discontent.

And then I see your face, and realize

the reverse is true as well.

My Other Life

There is something strange—

and yet familiar—

about this hypnotic countryside.

The endless biergartens and vineyards

black-domed clock towers, green shutters, red geraniums,

floral patterns painted on the front of the houses

just below the eave,

cargo ships that still matter,

spirals, mist,

and words with too many vowels.

My favorites are the Bavarian houses that

come in so many different colors,

poking their heads out of the earth

like a jumbo box of crayons after you tilt back the lid.

And then I recall another life, one that came before.

The year was 1560, back in the heady days of the German Renaissance.

I was there, and you were there, and Auntie Emmaline,

and my little dog, Trechtinghausen.

I was a court musician—played the lute—

and you were a rich burgermeister’s courtesan,

but we were both secretly part of the Wittenberg Resistance

fighting the dictatorial overtures

of the robber barons to the north.

You wore a red dress with silver brocade.

Every man in Riecherstein Castle wanted you,

but you wanted only me.

We danced together at Oktoberfest,

One of those Renaissance quadrilles with little touching

but intense eye contact.

I teased you about your work

and you hassled me about my liederhosen.

We played skittles and yodeled.

You collected unicorns

in your rucksack.

We were the envy of the balcony

and afterwards we got drunk

and howled at the moon.

People knew how to live back then.

Children respected their elders and had proper haircuts.

Parents didn’t spare the rod.

Men had to work for their money

and women didn’t work,

except courtesans.

No hot tubs, or massage parlors, no tattoos

no fast food chains

People knew what mattered back then

and one day will again

Sea Change

I used to like to be alone

All I wanted was what I could own:

a rock, a tree, a stone.

I used to like to walk in rain.

In the passage I could ascertain

a misty mountain chain.

I used to talk to myself at will

I enjoyed my conversational skill,

dry wit dressed to kill.

Now in the rain and in dreams too

When I talk to myself it’s true:

all I say is, Where are you?

Mount Vesuvius

just give me a clue, okay?

I’m good with clues

and I need to know what’s going



more than the laundry, more than

the oatmeal, more than



to 46-Across. I

don’t expect everything, the whole


no one gets that, not even, I



but I need some notion why you

have chosen to sit



and why your kisses have become

the brush of a butterfly’s wing. You

are a volcano

spewing your fiery rock lava



and I am an adventurer trapped

at the base, attracted by the perfume and heat,

loving best the lava that



like a coma patient who only knows

he’s alive when he feels pain

like a weary boy who in



fears being alone.


Redbud blossoms float,

Wind caresses fevered brains.

Oklahoma day.

Stars in quilted sky,

The dark alive with voices.

Oklahoma night

Where do I belong?

Not here nor there, day nor night.

Oklahoma Kid.

I left the book out

Billy Collins in the rain

Pages like pursed lips.

Waves pound like thunder

Trying hard to remind you

About what’s out there.

Now the children rest.

Book, drink, puzzle, cigarette.

Who rocks me to sleep?


You are not at all what I expected

with your big head, balloon eyes

blotchy skin, Titian hair.

You look more like a creature from outer space

than either of your parents.

I count your fingers and toes: 5, 5, 5, 5.

That’s a relief, anyway.

You bask in the incubator like a god

There is no one in your world but you.

You have everything you need, for now.

You have not known disappointment,

hunger, or bad reviews.

You have not known love, or lost it.

You frighten me.

Yes, I would die for you

but I have no idea how to live for you.


Under the swirling starry sky

high on a hill made of sand and sweat

deep in a chest built from rust and dreams

Its skin is as soft as a gossamer brush

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