Three Poems by Ben Gunsberg

Vernice Bianca

Luthiers say you can’t replicate a 16th century
Stradivarius. Maple back and willow blocks
varnished with honey, egg white, gum arabic.
All but done, Stradivari brushed this vernice
, careful not to drip the amniotic gloss
Heifetz would polish two hundred years later
after practice, vanishing fingerprints
with a fresh silk handkerchief.

I dry with a cotton towel. Heifetz plays.
My father, alive, no longer pulls silver
dollars from behind my daughter’s ear.
He helps stack dishes on shelves
until he can’t. He sits at the ebony table,
writes: Milk
            Bran flakes
            Call DR
His list a ladder into the future
balanced against the old house.
If his legs weren’t numb, he’d climb,
empty gutters, prepare for winter. Instead,
he rests—we rest together—out back.
My daughter sings something
she wrote. I recognize.



When frost becomes plausible as frost
along power lines, I think hard bread
and mottled salami, scrape shit off
my son’s crib. Grout tile, caulk sink,
lean back against a brick wall,
blue haze rising off my cigarette.
When objects descend as Brouwer
has shown, paint resembles actual
basements, Thursdays, fathers living
or dead. I stand eight hours, stuffing
circuits into plastic, warned not to
touch my eyes without showering first,
plunge wood in lacquer and scour
the mess with bristling solvent, earn
$8.50 shoveling sawdust into burlap,
reach for the white envelope of credit
that follows apartment to apartment.
I stir the sloshing contents of a pot,
spoon milk-soaked oats into my son’s
mouth, wipe his chin with my sleeve,
step over trash littering the doorway,
down the staircase, new syringe,
old jacket pocket.



A man holds out his hand,
says, “Nice suit.”
I am not in the mood to lie. I will fly
back to Michigan without a job.
Here is a man without a job
who wears a filthy Lakers tee-shirt.
Can’t name a single lake in L.A.,
then I remember how Minnesota lost
its team, but the name stuck:
“Land of 10,000 Lakes”
transplanted in the California desert,
a global brand. No incentive to amend
the name to something that makes sense:
L.A. Earthquakes, L.A. Traffic. Haha.
He wants a dollar. I’m shooting for
$60,000 a year. “Nice suit” hangs
in the air, his open palm
an extension of the interview,
one last trick question. I think,
I have so much. Okay, a dollar
and I reach for my wallet—empty
Forget hand, Lakers—how
will I fly home without I.D.?
I say I have no money,
and it’s true. I can tell by his face
he thinks I’m full of shit. New suit.
New shoes—I have never worn
such shine—chewing up my heels.
“Just a dollar, man,” he says,
because I’ve stopped to plumb my pockets.
He thinks I’m doing this for him,
opening my briefcase at his feet,
rummaging through resumes and work samples.
Eighty bucks in cash, MasterCard,
Visa Gold—Lord knows
how much I’ve lost, how much
he thinks I’ll offer.

Ben Gunsberg is an Assistant Professor of English at Utah State University. He earned an M.F.A. from the University of Alabama and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. His poetry appears in CutBank, The Southeast Review, and The South Carolina Review, among other magazines. He is the author of the chapbook Rhapsodies with Portraits (Finishing Line Press, 2015). His poetry manuscript, Cut Time, won the University of Michigan’s Hopwood Award for Poetry Writing. He lives in Logan, Utah, at the foot of the Bear River Mountains.

3 responses to “Three Poems by Ben Gunsberg

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