Berni Dwan, Exhibits

Dogged Fish

Stubborn, tenacious; the
size of a small trout; you
boldly push yourself through
a bouillabaisse, spitting pebbles
and defecating without shame. You

are swimming in your own stew;
circumnavigating a bisque atop
the dishwasher. One

lap of the tank and life starts anew for
you; the memory of each round erased.
Often, we can’t see you through the
cloudy consommé, but you always prevail;
you cling to life a thousand times a day,

flexing your tail and body doggedly. Sometimes,
unannounced, you make a gold-sequined dash
across the tank with the poise of a trapeze artist.
At feeding time your high jinks alarm us; you almost
fly; fervent with gratitude. I

took you home in a plastic bag, fifteen years
ago. I wonder if you have outlived your worth. No
longer a curious pet for a small child; you are a
nuisance who needs feeding and whose tank must
be cleaned. Your human age one-hundred-and-thirty; you

have outlived family and friends. Regimes have
come and gone, economies have waxed and waned,
wars have begun and ended; millions have died since
I brought you home. Often,

I am tempted to end your vain routine. Why don’t I? You
are a useless, living thing; yet I can’t kill you impulsively
like some infuriating fruit fly. One morning, I just want to
find you risen to the surface, floating vacuously; a former fish,
an unwanted chore.

Fat Man on a Bicycle

The wheels turn slowly; slowly you up
slope and down slide, stoically lumber forward
on the even stretch. Your behind
embraces the saddle; like a lover you straddle
that leather seat, gripping the handlebars with
the tenacity of a pommel horse gymnast. In
the summer haze you sink into road like a warm
knife into butter. You spread yourself atop the
hill before sharpening into focus on the flat. Your
battered pneumatic prosthetic has hefted your
swelling frame and weathered shopping bag for all
your adult life; bucking the trend; buckling the
wheels of progress. You never owned a car; never
travelled far enough to need one. The odd time
you’ll take a lift from a neighbour to a hospital
appointment or a funeral. You marvel at the satellite
navigation system and the hands-free phone. Tomorrow,
you will renew your vows with that old accustomed road;
meld into that familiar topography. You make a lovely
couple.

Magnetic Pole

Your six-year-old self stares out at me from the
oversized American fridge; a misjudged bargain for
our tiny kitchen. Your expression is serious and you
are held in place by Degas’ ballet dancers. The
king-size model, a totem pole of the routine
intricacies of family life, a prayer wheel of domesticity,
stands sentinel among its diminutive neighbours. Its
surface, bedecked with a peeling wallpaper of humdrum
duties, becomes more chaotic with each newly acquired
magnet hurriedly bought from some gallery or museum.
The marriage of fridge and magnet makes you an unkempt
ledger of our doings – a gaudy display of time fleeing and
standing still. Some

exhibits cling to life with yellowing Monets and cracked
Renoirs – surgery hours, fading primary school drawings, funny
postcards, old photos that fell out of old books. An angry Donald
Duck and a smug Shakespeare secure emergency taxi and chimney
sweep numbers; and that good hairdresser you always meant to go
back to. High

turnover exhibits – dental appointments, academic
calendars, class timetables – are held down by Seurat’s
Bathers at Asnières. A crusading knight, hands joined in
prayer, patiently guards orchestra and choir notices. Party

invitations and thank you notes are impaled with Caravaggio’s
The Taking of Christ. Our fridge, festooned with must-dos and had
to dos, is a cold case of daily ephemera; an icebox of tedious
trivia; a specimen cabinet of minutiae frozen in time. We

fasten them all to the sticking place; the notice board of the
modern kitchen. The magnetic pull of the frigid surface attracts dry
cleaning tickets, shoe repair dockets, out of date discount vouchers. Your

seventeen-year-old self smiles out at me. You are wearing
the vintage dress we bought in London’s hipster Brick Lane. Your
shy beau wears a dapper plaid suit. You are held in place by
Renoir’s The Umbrellas. Soon, we will need to make space for exam
timetables and new library opening hours. Evicted specimens

will find a second home as bookmarkers. They will
be a revelation for some future reader who might smile when
side-tracked by a nostalgic reminder of once commonplace concerns.

Berni teaches Journalism in Dun Laoghaire Further Education Institute. She has also taught English Literature, History, and Creative Writing in Dun Laoghaire Adult Learning Centre. In 2016, as part of the Scene and Heard Festival, she performed her one-woman show, Unrhymed Dublin, in Smock Alley Theatre. Her poems have been published in The Irish Times Hennessy New Irish Writing, The Galway Review, A New Ulster, Stepaway, Crossways, The Rose, and Hidden Channel.

In 2017, Berni earned second prize in the Johnathan Swift Creative Writing Awards. Her work has been broadcast on RTE’s Sunday Miscellany and Lyric FM’s Quiet Quarter. Berni produces and presents The A to Z of Historical Blunders on Near FM 90.6 radio. Her first collection, Frankly Baby, is forthcoming from Lapwing Press.

Fat Man on a Bicycle will appear in Crossways this autumn. 

 

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