Visit from Mars

- 1925-

Nostradamus generally predicted the
future but he also shined a clear
light into the past and lived to
regret some of the visions he had
because they weren’t precise enough
and could have been used for nefarious
thoughts or perilous judgments since,
after all, he was a prophet though
he could have been called a false
prophet in the sense that both
Ezekiel and Isaiah speak of them
though I have to say that
he predicted the visit from Mars, orchestrated
by Orson Welles in 1938
in the town of Grover’s Mill, near Princeton
where everyone seemed to turn on
the radio five, ten, minutes after the
show started including my father and
mother who were packing suitcases
for a quick ride to the bluff
and a cave my father knew from
his early years nor did he ever
forgive Orson Welles for the broadcast
and wouldn’t talk to me about Touch of
Evil—the greatest—nor Citizen Kane,
mostly a little boring though
if you were a film buff you could
study it forever especially if
you hated Hearst for all the good reasons.
Einstein himself was interviewed
while walking the mulberry streets, especially
the right-hand side of Great Road, going south,
where the houses are windy and overpriced,
and he was so full of denial that anyone
with a radio antenna sticking out of his head
had been seen in any diner or hardware store,
Einstein whose bushy face had rubbed
many a pair of reddened lips,
Einstein whose famous name they stole for bagels.

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.


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.