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As the president’s obsession with the health of the markets comes ever more blatantly at the expense of the health of human beings, I’ve been experiencing, at times, a terrible exhaustion, the result of attrition. On bad days, capitalism’s extraordinary violence can feel so total that I find it difficult to robustly imagine an alternative. But Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s “Middle Life Money” activates the imagination. In this poem, glimpses of the terribly recognizable convergences of money, bodies, and desire—“a curated monthly box of the best in // spirit gases and vaginal cleansers”—dissolve into images that elude my grasp: “the day has me raging / in its lowest flowers.” Does this poem simply cite the connection between money and value, or does it in fact make space for new forms of relation not circumscribed by the market? As with money, the meaning here is confirmed in the exchange. Bertram has issued the charge. What we make of it is up to us.

– Claire Schwartz

Listen to Lillian-Yvonne Bertram read “Middle Life Money.”


Middle Life Money

Of course, I’d love to discourse
     on this body again! backing down
        before the best lies told about it.

The way through is skull forward:
     jaw-first into smith soup.
I cannot outstare the bill faces

and the now spits blahsazy blahzay
     on my debited wants. Of course I subscribe
        to a curated monthly box of the best in

spirit gases and vaginal cleansers!
     When the day has me raging
        in its lowest flowers I’ll act a pained

can’t-morph-enough, but
     the rougher braver me verses ahead
        with unnerving ease.


Lillian-Yvonne Bertram is the author of Travesty Generator, a book of computationally mediated poetry, and the poetry books How Narrow My Escapes, Personal Science, a slice from the cake made of air, and But a Storm is Blowing From Paradise.