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.
Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925. His recent poetry collections include Galaxy Love (W. W. Norton, 2017); Divine Nothingness (W. W. Norton, 2014); In Beauty Bright (W. W. Norton, 2012); Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 (W. W. Norton, 2010), and Save the Last Dance (2008).
Date Published: 2010-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/kissing-stieglitz-good-bye