? SLAB | Sound & Literary Art Book

Issue 10

Poetry

Gerald Stern

Grandfathers


One of them poured hot lead
into a bucket of cold water so he could
make determinations from the shapes
of the hardened metal for he was chasing
the odd intrusions in a small girl’s body;

the other had a small tobacco factory
on the third floor of his house and he engaged
a lehrer for the women there co-determinous
with Tampa and Havana though the language was different

so I was only half crazy at the most,
for there was a little sanity in both of them
though more I believe in him with the three floors
than him with only one workable room,
the kitchen and the bedrooms unthinkable,

and I am loyal to the nth degree
whatever they would have thought of me
and for one of them I would have carried one book,
for another, another.
It’s all written down in the steam of my bathroom mirror—

if you can read it.




Song of Deborah


When she gathered her people
she said “enough of hills” and “stop climbing”,
especially women, especially if you don’t want
muscular calves like that
and block the entrances for I will sing you a song of
lush meadows and show you where to plant your
corn, though your tomatoes nearer the tents,
and peppers too, for there will be soups, but in
the meantime I’ll start my song for that is
good for breathing, especially at these heights
and don’t look back for you could lose
your balance—after all, you don’t have hooves
to jump from rock to rock and, after all,
your babies make you heavy, the poets you carry.




Blue Jay


At least I am luckier than that blue jay
hopping along the bulwark
his rubber leg falling back under him
absolutely doomed, the way it is out there.
My heart goes out to him
though he’s more a bully than
any other warm creature that came my way.
I never thought I’d plead for a blue jay
I who haven’t pled for seventy years,
I who got on my knees every night
to go through the ritual of my own devising.

I who had no grievances then.





Ich Bin Jude


Who was it threatened to murder
a streetcar full of fucking Nazis in Wien
when he was in the country only two hours
and watched the car empty
including the festooned conductor and the decorated motorman?

The rain wouldn’t stop.
The cheapest place in Europe—
September, October, November, 1954.
Your darling city.