Erica Ehrenberg: The End of Pettiness

Three new pieces from the poet's collection in progress.

René Magritte, Le double secret, 1927.

© 2023 C. Herscovici / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The following is an excerpt from Erica Ehrenberg’s collection in progress, tentatively titled The End of Pettiness.


In it I scaled mountains, not on foot but in the funicular, then on the glacier on foot, wearing plastic sunglasses, smelling of the interior of the car. In the interior of the car—after hours with the heat sputtering man made weather, wearing it all the time, on the backseat sometimes sleeping.

It could go from a covering for the body to being stuffed into itself to become a small and weightless sack. I liked how I felt like a boy in it. And feeling like a boy in it I also felt hot to men. Because there are times in this life when there is a slippage between the desire to have what you are attracted to and the desire to become it.

The opposite of seduction, the pressure to attract—I wanted to burrow straight into the place where the inexact penis sat hidden in the off hours but where it wouldn’t see me. The penis angling everything, the rope in the hands, angling the hands.

I liked daydreaming in the K-way all wrapped up in industrial strength apocryphally waterproof fabric, the sound of the synthetic fibers brushing against my head when I had the hood on, more than a head cover, a helmet of sound echoing back to me the waft of my own body as the fabric reflected my sweat back to my skin. It extended my presence not only into the outer edge of the fabric but more importantly into that gap between like a layer of trapped breath where I craved myself.

I had this fanny pack style thing to put on that covered my shame like a tent and trapped it where it could become aggressive. I had it for stepping out onto the glacier whose air-eating holes could have convinced me with their obliterating power to close desire forever, but instead shored it up, tamped it in, stuffed me up in my swishing little hiding place.

Ice Glen

One day in the middle of winter, I went for a walk on the famous glacier, lost my way in a crevice during an unexpected snowfall, passed out, and had a strange vision. A very small man, who though small, was proportional, appeared and said while sliding his hand under my neck, “turn so I can cradle your head.” I did as he said, and my head clicked into place and fit into his hand the way the heads of plastic toys I had as a child snapped into their plastic helmets. I felt an unease rise in my bloodstream, a cold and sour bubbling. “I’m going to give you the secret of this glacier,” he said, “but it will not be information that you can repeat or remember,” and my body split open into two half-chambers.

An echo pushed up and down through the tunnel I had created. It had no starting place and no end but made a forceful column that seemed to both dig down into the earth and up into the sky. My tongue was covered in a film of moss, but where was my tongue? It had no location, it was only a sensation like a memory of having a body. The moss marked the outline of a remembered shape I once took, and my eyes pushed through the cavern wall with vision that cut through the layers of the rock.

I saw crumbling orange clusters and white petals like coral growing in a line, and I felt these petals were growing out of my face the way mushrooms grow like shelves on trees. My body was the rock cracked in two by the ice. My mind was the space in between, a shapeless substance, loose, except for the hand of the man holding it up. It beckoned further and further into the slit that did not end and pulled in single flakes of snow that went down softly and reluctantly. Then the glacier as a space seen through a person came back to me. The hand of the man spread over me like the skin of my face and body, giving me back a form, which lets only certain things be seen.

The Harbor

The ocean next to our house isn’t fixed in its bed. Because our land and air are so wet, the water is slick and can’t control its movements. The waning waves, sliding down from the shore after high tide are jealous of the birds that sink their tiny feet into the glistening sand. The body of the bird is so distinct—it hears the rumblings of a storm or an animal wriggle in its tunnel, and turns its head in the direction of these movements, contained enough to stop moving, still enough to turn and see. By what force is the water willed? Except in delineated coves, it has no starting place, but a wish to be guided by the moon with care and not indifference—the possibility of giving itself in pieces to the stars, total madness. ♦

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