Doing The Dance of Old Ukraine

 
 
 

The Dancing

By Gerald Stern 
 
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken furniture
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and coffee pots
I have never seen a postwar 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
 
 

Roses

by Gerald Stern

There was a rose called Guy de Maupassant,
a carmine pink that smelled like a Granny Smith
and there was another from the seventeenth century
that wept too much and wilted when you looked;
and one that caused tuberculosis, doctors
dug them up, they wore white masks and posted
warnings on the windows. One wet day
it started to hail and pellets the size of snowballs
fell on the roses. It’s hard for me to look at
a Duchess of Windsor, it was worn by Franco
and Mussolini, it stabbed Jews; yesterday I bought
six roses from a Haitian on Lower Broadway;
he wrapped them in blue tissue paper, it was
starting to snow and both of us had on the wrong shoes,
though it was wind, he said, not snow that ruined
roses and all you had to do was hold them
against your chest. He had a ring on his pinky
the size of a grape and half his teeth were gone.
So I loved him and spoke to him in false Creole
for which he hugged me and enveloped me
in his camel hair coat with most of the buttons missing,
and we were brothers for life, we swore it in French.

 

An Oldster In A Boater

Gerald Stern

I feel my job as an artist is to disturb the peace. And to disturb it intellectually, linguistically, politically and literally.

Gerald Stern

Still Burning

By Gerald Stern 
 
Me trying to understand say whence
say whither, say what, say me with a pencil walking,
say reading the dictionary, say learning medieval
Latin, reading Spengler, reading Whitehead,
William James I loved him, swimming breaststroke
and thinking for an hour, how did I get here?
Or thinking in line, say the 69 streetcar
or 68 or 67 Swissvale,
that would take me elsewhere, me with a textbook
reading the pre-Socratics, so badly written,
whoever the author was, me on the floor of
the lighted stacks sitting cross-legged,
walking afterwards through the park or sometimes
running across the bridges and up the hills,
sitting down in our tiny dining room,
burning in a certain way, still burning.
 
 
 

Someone commented the other day, “do you think summer will ever feel as free again?”   The comment was in relation to how our lives have changed due to the pandemic and what were formerly foundations of our summertime experiences, like outdoor music festivals, BBQ contests, baseball games, the State Fair, have shifted from sheer enjoyment to something more akin to risks to be managed.  I miss the silliness that is people watching out in the world and how the lives of strangers momentarily collide.   Too often today the dance that is the choreography of my day is now a solo rather than an easy summertime waltz with others. 


Traffic Sonnet

by Edwin Denby

Cool June day, up the avenue
An oldster in a boater steps
Jaunty, at the cross-street, light green
Steps out, truck turns in on him, he stops
Truck halts, the driver don’t crowd him
Midwest highschool kids of his own
He’s spotted the gait, gives pop time
Lets them honk, soberly waves him on
Old man couldn’t move; a PR
Touched the arm, smiled, walked him across
He took up a stride like before
Traffic regained momentum lost
Irish like the President’s dad
We watched him swallowed by the crowd

A Life Reprehensibly Perfect

Waving Goodbye

How lucky I am to have something that saying good-bye is so hard.

A. A. Milne

Waving Good-Bye

by Gerald Stern

I wanted to know what it was like before we
had voices and before we had bare fingers and before we
had minds to move us through our actions
and tears to help us over our feelings,
so I drove my daughter through the snow to meet her friend
and filled her car with suitcases and hugged her
as an animal would, pressing my forehead against her,
walking in circles, moaning, touching her cheek,
and turned my head after them as an animal would,
watching helplessly as they drove over the ruts,
her smiling face and her small hand just visible
over the giant pillows and coat hangers
as they made their turn into the empty highway.


Departures and arrivals, leaving and returning home, this is the way of summer vacations and more metaphysical deliberations on the meaning of “home.” I have wished loved ones off this past week and depart myself on multiple journeys over the course of the next few. But it is a much more interesting and ominous departure I am contemplating of late, a departure from “things.”  It is cliche to talk about how the things we possess come in time to possess us, but why else do we pay such elaborate mortgages and taxes to afford houses or condos large enough to store all the things a middle aged person accumulates? I have had a rule for the past year; for everything that is brought in something has to depart.  It works to a point but inevitably the scale tips towards more and never toward less.  It takes something radical to actually move the needle in the direction of fewer things.

 My possessions consist mostly of clothing, books, music and art these days. None of it expensive or elaborate.  None of the categories are large enough to be called a collection, and yet it is much to large to be easily relocated. So who owns whom?  I spend little time in the condo in which they are housed, and yet I pay the bills each month so that my pictures can hang on the wall, and my clothes can hang in the closet in relative prosperity.  Its a bit absurd if I think about it clearly, and yet it is comforting in an odd way to know where things are.   So who or what owns what or whom?   I’ll continue to pretend I am the one in control, at least I know I am the one paying the bills, but I would like to see my art be a little more grateful for its wall space, lest I decide to take the plunge and box it all up for storage and stop paying their “gallery” rent unless they are going to contribute more to my sense of home, and less to my sense of obligation.


 

Poetry of Departures

Philip Larkin

Sometimes you hear, fifth-hand,
As epitaph:
He chucked up everything
And just cleared off,
And always the voice will sound
Certain you approve
This audacious, purifying,
Elemental move.

And they are right, I think.
We all hate home
And having to be there:
I detest my room,
It’s specially-chosen junk,
The good books, the good bed,
And my life, in perfect order:
So to hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me to stay
Sober and industrious.
But I’d go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo’c’sle
Stubbly with goodness, if
It weren’t so artificial,
Such a deliberate step backwards
To create an object:
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.