Poem of the Week, by Gerald Stern

A long time ago, one of the men from my writing class at the Minnesota AIDS Project, a beautiful writer whose memoirs I still keep in a “Favorites” file, invited us all over to his house for a potluck dinner. I remember he was lying on the couch when we arrived. He hadn’t felt well for years. He’d had to leave his job at the theater. He moved slowly.

But at one point in the evening, talking about one of his favorite performances, he suddenly drew back, hands extended, and transfixed me with a few lines from the play. I remember how his eyes blazed, how his voice changed. I saw for a minute the wildness of his young man self, in love with theater, in love with life, before disease ravaged him.

The Dancing, by Gerald Stern

In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a post-war Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all streaming,
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three of us
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and Germany—
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.

Click here for more information about Gerald Stern.


Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Gerald Stern

IMG_4897Last week I tucked myself behind a long black semi, far enough back so he could see me and my rattletrap moving truck in his big side mirrors. I do this sometimes on the highway when I’m tired or troubled or just want someone else to take over a little of the decision-making. Truckers (with a few exceptions) are the best drivers out there. They have to be. 

After a while, the trucker realized I was following him. In construction zones, he’d slow down a little once we were through, so that I could catch up to him. I was hungry and I had to pee but I didn’t want to lose my trucker, so I kept going. More than two hundred miles in, he put on his blinker for the next exit. Damn. So sad to see him go, sad, somehow, to think I’d never see him again. But he’d gotten me within fifty miles of home. I sped up at the exit ramp to say goodbye, and there he was in the window, smiling down at me, with a thumbs-up and a wave. 


Waving Good-Bye, by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.




For more information on Gerald Stern, please click here.



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