The Dancing

Gerald Stern - 1925-
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.

More by Gerald Stern

Apocalypse

Of all sixty of us I am the only one who went 
to the four corners though I don't say it
out of pride but more like a type of regret,
and I did it because there was no one I truly believed 
in though once when I climbed the hill in Skye
and arrived at the rough tables I saw the only other
elder who was a vegetarian--in Scotland--
and visited Orwell and rode a small motorcycle
to get from place to place; and I immediately
stopped eating fish and meat and lived on soups;
and we wrote each other in the middle and late fifties
though one day I got a letter from his daughter
that he had died in an accident; he was
I'm sure of it, an angel who flew in midair
with one eternal gospel to proclaim
to those inhabiting the earth and every nation;
and now that I go through my papers every day
I search and search for his letters but to my shame 
I have even forgotten his name, that messenger
who came to me with tablespoons of blue lentils.

My Sister's Funeral

Since there was no mother for the peach tree we did it 
all alone, which made the two of us closer
though closeness brought its loneliness, and it would
have been better I think sometimes to be sterile
from the start just to avoid the pain 
which in my life this far has lasted seventy
years for I am in love with a skeleton
on whose small bones a dress hung for a while,
on whose small skull a bit of curly hair
was strung, and what is dust I still don’t know
since there was no mother to turn to then and ask
what else was she wearing, did she have on shoes,
and were the two trees from Georgia, and was it
true somebody said the other peach
should have died instead of her; and I could 
imagine the nose going first though forty years later
the trees were still there and not as big as you’d think;
and it was my cousin Red with the flabby lips
who said it, he had red eyes, a red monstrosity,
a flabby body, half the house was filled with 
male cousins, they were born in rooms a 
short distance from the rats, I can’t remember
which ones had the accents nor what his
Hebrew name was, nor his English.