Only So Far / Eleanor Berry


Only So Far

poems by

Eleanor Berry

ISBN: 978-1-59948-749-6, 40 pages, $12 (+ shipping)

Projected Release Date:  September 4, 2019


Eleanor Berry has lived with her husband in rural western Oregon since 1994. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and has taught writing and literature at Willamette University, Marquette University, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, and other colleges. She is a past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and of the Oregon Poetry Association. Her poetry and essays on poetry have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Her poems have also been gathered in two full-length collections, Green November (Traprock Books, 2007) and No Constant Hues (Turnstone Books of Oregon, 2015).

These nimble, sure-footed poems are remarkable for their intelligence and for the care with which they are constructed. Also notable is their precise detail: “the milky ooze of a dandelion stem” or “a leaf / riddled to lace.” There are “books, / bristling with bookmarks” and a winter field “spread[ing] out its rough pelt / blue-white as ermine in moonlight.” Not many poets can write so deeply and so accurately of such ordinary things. Eleanor Berry can, and does. ~Clemens Starck, author of Cathedrals & Parking Lots: Collected Poems

What would it be like to hold every last object always in mind? In Eleanor Berry’s carefully crafted Only So Far, an old spatula, a volunteer sassafras by her parents’ grave, December sky as a vast, delicate shell, smooth and palest pink, curved over the earth, even the word cleave with its contradictory meanings, are all objects to be fully seen and made beautiful. ~Penelope Scambly Schott, past recipient of the Oregon Book Award for Poetry

Eleanor Berry’s Only So Far feels flawlessly crafted of equal parts contemplation and curiosity, wonder and wit. “Poetry’s work,” Jane Hirshfield says, “is the clarification and magnification of being,” and Berry’s powerful collection contains both: a speaker who is childless by choice clarifies, “I’m still/an only child”; a minor facial scar becomes magnified as “fabric that wasn’t held flat for seaming.” Berry’s insightful lines are gifts, offering new ways of seeing, new ways of being. ~Jennifer Richter, author of No Acute Distress

To arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic


while it’s sinking,
to fiddle
while Rome burns—
would it be so foolish after all?

There would be the image, the sound,
of a created order
held momentarily in the mind
before it was consumed.


Big things coming in your future,
announces the paper strip I pull
from the shattered fortune cookie,
Only matter of time.

Already some years back,
a friend told me she’d dreamed it—
The Big One, upheaving
the dam upriver from here, loosing

the waters behind it.
Only matter of time
till it hits, sends torrents roaring down
the canyon toward us.


Still I spend hours
arranging pictures on the walls
of bedroom, guest room,
living room, study.

I want the painted worlds
to join together
like voices in a part-song.
I want these imperiled walls

to sing in the face of threat
complex harmonies
eyes can receive
and mind hold close.




Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, 8 March 2014
Oso Mudslide, 22 March 2014


An ordinary red-eye—skim the in-flight mag,
begin the novel you bought for the trip,
push off the reading light, doze …

Startle awake from strange dreams, look out
the port—where lit streets should spread below,
unbroken black …

How is it your hands
yearn to stroke
your oldest sweater’s pilled wool?


An ordinary Saturday morning—sleep late,
dawdle over coffee, put on jeans, start
digging up weeds in the lawn …

Then a roar, darkness, an overwhelming
wet weight—impossible to move,
to cry out …

How is it your fingers
long to feel
the milky ooze from a dandelion’s stem?





Teenage girl, I hunched
on the edge—I called it
the prow—of a rock overhanging
the pond near my family’s house.
Longing to cast off
from myself, as if self
were a shore, I flung wide
my arms, let loose my hair,
and focused my gaze
on wind-ruffled water until
that boulder bore me as a boat
scudding across waves.

I cry to be broken open, to spill
out, dissolve in the you,
the world, the other, to break
down the walls of I.
So I once began
a poem filled with longing
and sure such longing
was common to all selves,
sure, too, with the proudly dark
vision of my youth, that it was doomed
to disappointment, every approach
to union with another, with the all,
certain to end in a fall
back into separate self.

Such longing
knew no fear
of an ek-stasis
whose joy and pain
would be more
than self could bear.

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