Black Lawrence Press

Three Hands None

photos of men was it this one that. I tell them I hadn’t seen his face
the flashlight melted my eyes

mug shots again was it this one that. I hadn’t seen hadn’t seen

did I smell his breath his underarm stench his filtered or filterless. did he
smell me

he watched me. he locked my face naked in detention

he knew who I was knew me when I crossed the street knows who I am
knows this is me

knows me. in the grocery aisle he sees me stripped to less than essence

he held me down. the heft of his hand the precise edge of his blade
squeezed me pierced me emptied me of substance

I am not playing here with agency

this is what powerless is

barebones nothing

barebones and muscleless. skeleton collapsed
lunch became bread and water

motion was turning my head to look at the door

watch the door

thought was imploded chaos. speech was a pageless lexicon

sleep was a useless plan. exhaustion buzzed like a swinging hive

my home my skin locked me out

breakfast was a sip of juice

supper was bread and water. the week after, a fruit


  • Fearless, unsparing, Denise Bergman probes a violent, sexual assault to expose the personal and social consequences of ungovernable, masculinist culture. “Home is the coat that can’t keep me warm or dry/ buttons and holes I can’t align,” the poet declares, struggling to rebuild a coherent self. A book-length narrative poem, Three Hands None reveals how “materials for this story” also account for domestic and international tragedies: “the single-eyed babies born in Fallujah” and “strip-mined flattened hills.” A single sequence—of narrative, fragment, and image—this original work will leave you breathless, changed.

    —Robin Becker, author of The Black Bear Inside Me
  • To read Denise Bergman’s Three Hands None is to inhabit an intimate accounting of a sexual assault in her bed by a stranger that reduced the writer to “barebones nothing.” The accounting is obsessive, almost Steinian in its use of repetition to render the ripping of self that occurred during and after the event, the long days and nights when she “sweated inside matted wool terror filthy as a sheep.” The poems that compose the volume read like the raw data of a mind working nonstop to parse the violence that severed her from “a body once her own.” They collapse the distance between past and present, silence and speech, material and the metaphor, inside and out. The journey is not for the timid; images climb inside and rake your chest. But Bergman’s supple intelligence—whose “home is the range of one’s instinct”—and mastery of her craft carry her and her reader through: “Word on the street is she still lives there.”

    —Lee Sharkey, author of Walking Backwards

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Denise Bergman

Denise Bergman's A Woman in Pieces Crossed a Sea won the Patricia Clark Smith Poetry Prize and was published by West End Press in 2014. The book centers on the making and endurance of “symbol” in the Statue of Liberty; the impetus for the book was the year when the statue sat in 350 pieces in 214 crates on its future island home awaiting reconstruction. The Telling (Cervena Barva, 2014) is a book-length poem generated by a relative's one-sentence secret: she believed that as a child refugee she had accidentally killed her mother. Seeing Annie Sullivan (poetry, Cedar Hill Books) based on the early life of Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was translated into Braille and a Talking Book. Denise conceived and edited the anthology of urban poetry City River of Voices (West End Press). Her poetry is widely published, most recently in Poetry, Beloit Journal, and Solstice, Paterson Literary Review, and the Syracuse Cultural Workers Women’s Daybook. The first stanza of her poem “Red,” about a neighborhood near a slaughterhouse, is permanently installed in a public park in Cambridge, Mass. Denise was a Split This Rock poet of the week, and has received grants from the Puffin Foundation and the Mass Cultural Council.

Bergman Author page

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