Tag Archives: Gerald Stern

July 2, 2013: BEFORE EATING (Gerald Stern)


here’s one from wild-and wooly, Pittsburgh-born, late-blooming, NJ poet laureate, “Dr. Ten Lagers,” National Book Award-winning Gerald Stern. While in SF I had the chance to sit down for an hour or so in the City Lights bookstore and peruse some of my favorites. This is from his recent collection Save the Last Dance, and I was pleased to find a poem by a known free-verser that is perfect for our section on formal verse. I think there’s a little something for everyone in these rhyming couplets! Enjoy, -ed.


Here’s to your life

and here’s to your death

and here’s to coughing

and here’s to breath.

Here’s to snowfall

here’s to flurry,

here’s your hat,

what’s your hurry?

Here’s to judge,

here’s to Jewry,

here’s to beer,

here’s to brewery.

Leave me alone,

I want to worry;

make me lamb chops,

make me curry.

Here’s to Voigt,

here’s to Bidart,

here’s getting off

to a running start.

Here’s to Dove,

here’s to Levine,

here’s to the graveyards

in Berlin and Wien.

Here’s to Gilbert

who learned it from me,

here’s to the ninety-foot

Christmas tree

he fell on his head from

shortening his height,

here’s to the grimness

of his grim night;

and I could go on for

forty pages,

listing my joys

and listing my rages,

but I should stop

while I’m still ahead

and make my way

to my own crooked bed;

so here’s to the end,

the final things,

and here’s to forever

and what that brings,

and here’s to a cup of

coffee in the winter

and here’s to the needle,

and here’s to the splinter.

And here’s to the pear tree

I couldn’t live without,

and here’s to its death

I wrote about

from 1966

to 1972,

a kind of root

from which I grew,

and here’s to the fruit–

I like that too,

bruised and juicy

through and through,

and here’s to the core

oh most of all

and how I chewed it

from Mall to Mall

and how I raddled

the stem in my teeth

as if it were wind

against a red leaf;

and here’s to the wind

and here’s to your eyes

and here’s to their honey,

dark as the skies

and here’s to the silk roof

over your head

and here’s to the pillows

and here’s to the bed

and here’s to your plaid robe,

and here’s to your breast,

and here’s to your new coat

and here’s to your vest

and your fine mind and its desire

as wild and crazy as the fire

we saw burning going home in the dark,

driving by and wanting to park,

but stopped by sirens and flashing lights–

wild nights, wild nights,

a pine tree in the other lane,

cones exploding in my brain.


Monday’s Verse, January 12/09

When I think of Pittsburgh, I think of 2 things: The Steelers, and Gerald Stern. The Steelers won a big playoff gaem against Sandy Eggo last night. Gerald Stern published a new book of poems in 2008, his 83rd year. This poem is not from that collection. It’s worth paying attention to anyway. Perhaps Stern’s poems are like Emily Dickinson‘s, insofar as they are intimately personal, always universal, constantly surprising. He even caught me off guard with the POV of this one. Happy new year,
What I was doing with my white teeth exposed
like that on the side of the road I don’t know,
and I don’t know why I lay beside the sewer
so that the lover of dead things could come back
with is pencil sharpened and his piece of white paper.
I was there for a good two hours whistling
dirges, shrieking a little, terrifying
hearts with my whimpering cries before I died
by pulling the one leg up and stiffening.
There is a look we have with the hair of the chin
curled in mid-air, there is a look with the belly
stopped in the midst of its greed. The lover of dead things
stoops to feel me, his hand is shaking. I know
his mouth is open and his glasses are slipping.
I think his pencil must be jerking and the terror
of smell—and sight—is overtaking him;
I know he has that terrified faraway look
that death brings—he is contemplating. I want him
to touch my forehead once again and rub my muzzle
before he lifts me up and throws me into
that little valley. I hope he doesn’t use
his shoe for fear of touching me; I know,
or used to know, the grasses down there; I think
I knew a hundred smells. I hope the dog’s way
doesn’t overtake him, one quick push,
barely that, and the mind freed, something else,
some other, thing to take its place. Great heart,
great human heart, keep loving me as you lift me,
give me your tears, great loving stranger, remember,
the death of dogs, forgive the yapping, forgive
the shitting, let there be pity, give me your pity.
How could there be enough? I have given
my life for this, emotion has ruined me, oh lover,
I have exchanged my wildness—little tricks
with the mouth and feet, with the tail, my tongue is a parrots’s,
I am a rampant horse, I am a lion,
I wait for the cookie, I snap my teeth—
as you have taught me, oh distant and brilliant and lonely.

Monday’s Verse 8-27-07


obviously at this point, I’ll just be trying to live up to the new
standards of intelligence, humanity, and wit that Ms. Cohan set during
my absence. Many thanks.

Gol dang I loves me some Gerald Stern. And not only because his name
is an anagram for “Dr. Ten Lagers.” No, it’s more because he can seem
like the combined second comings of Walt Whitman, William Carlos
, and Wallace Stevens. So I was delighted to see him in a
recent New Yorker. He’s always a lesson in poetry, because rarely, if
ever, does one get a sense of what the man MEANS. That is OK. He’s
known for surreal connections between image and thought, which work
because his writing itself is usually so fluid. In other words, his
poems make sense in an OTHER way. This one is I think no
exception–seems more of an exercise in rhythm than anything else.
Enjoy the waning weeks of summer,



Because of the Paganini I lifted the lid
the minute I got back from Prague and kissed
the two ridiculous inlaid hearts that were
located so carefully and lacquered so well
they could have been painted on, and I would have said
one was me and one was you and you were
standing beside a column that propped the roof up
and you said, “Don’t forget, I saved your life once,”
and I said, “I’ll never forget,” and there were walls
plated in bronze and dogs of gold and silver,
except the machine broke down, or what it did,
the music just ended, or just when you thought it did
there was another PING; and I got up
to put my white shirt on I wear to buy
my carrots in and I rewound the box
though it was June and there was blood on my fingers
from strawberries and I examined the tiny
pins reaching up from the comb and the block of wood
to see where music comes from and to learn
once and for all how feeling is converted,
though we were in a boat in Naples harbor–
I like that better–and we were floating and there was
more than an inch of water and the inlaid
hearts were shaking and the pins were going wild.