The Romantic

Gerald Stern - 1925-

I resisted spending money and I held fast
against almost everything, including
washing machines and cheap cars.

I lived by my wits, you know that,
and came back to America
with eighteen dollars in my pocket,
but there were many of us
mostly in Dutch freighters
that unloaded in Hoboken
in a voyage of potatoes and gravy.

Did you ever see how small the seedpod is
for the black locust? I wrote about that.

Now I live under its shade
and protect it from farmers
looking for fence posts,
farmers whom I hate, saying
they have abandoned the one or two days they
spent with some early nineteenth-century poets
when their teachers, Miss This and Miss That,
who lived by yearning
especially when the sun broke through
their classroom windows on a June afternoon
almost giving way to sobbing,
with a book in one hand I remember
held high as if against the axe,
as if to give shelter, for that’s what
it was, oh Miss Pickard, Miss Schlessinger.

More by Gerald Stern

The Dancing

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.

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.