Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye
Every city in America is approached through a work of art, usually a bridge but sometimes a road that curves underneath or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel— you don't know it—that takes you through the rivers and under the burning hills. I went there to cry in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle through fire and flood. Some have little parks— San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque is beautiful from a distance; it is purple at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian, especially from the little rise on the hill at 14-C; it has twelve entrances like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived, has two small floating bridges in front of it that brought me in and out. I said good-bye to them both when I was 57. I'm reading Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time. I love how he lived in the desert. I'm looking at the skull of Georgia O'Keeffe. I'm kissing Stieglitz good-bye. He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city in every sense of the word; he wore a library across his chest; he had a church on his knees. I'm kissing him good-bye; he was, for me, the last true city; after him there were only overpasses and shopping centers, little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf where whores couldn't even walk, where nobody sits, where nobody either lies or runs; either that or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum, a flower sucking the water out of a rock. What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick turning the bricks up, numbering the shards, dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial. I put it in my leather pockets next to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys, my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there beside his famous number; there is smoke and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting is taking down his words. I'm kissing Stieglitz goodbye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos are making me cry; we're walking down Fifth Avenue; we're looking for a pencil; there is a girl standing against the wall—I'm shaking now when I think of her; there are two buildings, one is in blackness, there is a dying poplar; there is a light on the meadow; there is a man on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.
From Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 by Gerald Stern. Copyright © 2010 by Gerald Stern. Used by permission of W. W. Norton. All rights reserved.