Relief Map

by Erin M. Bertram


In an extended sequence of prose poems, Relief Map uses etymology to navigate eros-turned-longtime partnership. Entries range from “Vulnerability” to “Fire” to “Salt,” interspersed with meditations on topics including the subjunctive mood and documentary studies. Here, the terrain of the Midwest—and of the beloved’s body—offer maps with which to chart the profound fact of love in the everyday, fully aware of the possibility of losing it. Dictionary-like in approach and lyric in effect, Relief Map is a sort-of secular book of hours, exploring what it means to make a life with another person and mean it.
Subjunctive Mood
Let’s touch each other in the forest as the wind tries to push us around.
Let’s pretend we’re swashbuckling & radiant.
Let’s sing into each other’s mouths.
Let’s eat.
Let’s cut our losses & move camp, pitch a tent downriver, tramp through the firelight like
        initiates, & call each other Big Fancy.
Let’s climb to high ground & pin our names to the wide back of the sky.
Let’s hip & hip.
Let’s hooray.
Let’s consider all the times we could have broken hearts & did, all the Friday nights we spent
        alone in our pajamas, eating take-out & wishing we were beautiful.
Let’s spool our indecision around the memory of last night’s winnings.
Let’s unwind each other by any means necessary.
Let’s thank you thank you for the mighty spindrift, the hallowed grass stain, the peculiar déjà-vu.
Let’s drink river water the smart way.
Let’s windfall.
Let’s birthday cake.
Let’s handshake & call it a day.
Let’s oscillate wildly when the flashlight goes shy of batteries.
Let’s not look down until we dream each other whole, our jeans worn, the sun in our eyes, all
        those miles stacked in our boots.
Let’s go.
Let’s chaparral & karoo, & urinate beneath only the tallest trees.
Let’s press our fears into diamonds, blood dried on our forepaws, a little charcoal dusting our


The poems in Relief Map explore the dynamic landscape of abiding love – that territory that is “forever unchartered” and yet “familiar as your own face and hands.” Bertram locates the spirit in the body and the body, the human animal, in the natural world. The language of the poems, like the lovers who inhabit them is “swashbuckling & radiant” and leads us through, and beyond, “the lonesome country of the self.”

–Grace Bauer, author of The Women At The Well and Mean/Time


That oft-traversed and never-understood terrain of the beloved, of desire. Bertram asks us to trace our hands over the everyday and see it anew, so that we may marvel at it: “To light one another from within & stare dumbstruck at the glow.” This collection, contemplative and shot through with longing, is a bright burning thing reminding us of the tenuousness and beauty inherent to intimacy.

–Katie Schmid, author of forget me / hit me / let me drink great quantities of clear, evil liquor