The Cortland Review

Gerald Stern
Five poems by Gerald Stern.

Christopher Buckley
Michael Burkard
Jeff Friedman
Ross Gay
Jack Gilbert This marks an author's first online publication
Linda Gregg
Jane Hirshfield
Tony Hoagland
Joan Larkin
Dorianne Laux
Jan Heller Levi
Anne Marie Macari
Ed Ochester
Alicia Ostriker
Kathleen Peirce This marks an author's first online publication
Peter Richards
Ira Sadoff
Jean Valentine
Arthur Vogelsang This marks an author's first online publication
Judith Vollmer
Anne Waldman
Peter Waldor
Michael Waters This marks an author's first online publication
"The Final Vocabulary of Gerald Stern" by David Rigsbee.

Book Review
"Save the Last Dance" by Gerald Stern—Book Review, by David Rigsbee.

Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley's 16th book of poems, Modern History: Prose Poems 1987–2007, is just out from Tupelo Press. For 2008 he is the recipient of the James Dickey Prize from Five Points Magazine, and he was a Guggenheim Fellow in poetry for 2007–2008. With Gary Young he has edited Bear Flag Republic: Prose Poems & Poetics from California (Alcatraz Editions, 2008). He teaches in the creative writing department at the University of California Riverside.

Rainy Day    

What sits beside me now is not anguish, envy, or
    regret—none of those abstractions arm-wrestled
          youth through middle-age—it's the cold

and damp from the fading blue, contending in my bones.  
     I've picked myself some gladiolas and nasturtiums
          from the park, and am almost comforted

despite the fog bank overtaking the cliff, suggesting
     that all that floats above the occluded waves
          is salt and sea-dust circling back

in the soul's disguise. I've discovered so little that only
     guesswork is left on the table as I gaze out the window
          into the past, into the old equivocations,

vague as the semi-eternal sky, inaccessible even if we think
     we rise into the untended fields of clouds, of molecules,
           of oxygen, nitrogen, the durable and

bright blossoms of the cosmos. Nothing changes change . . .
     I remember going door to door in my sea-checked
          school uniform shirt, collecting for

"underprivileged children," trying to ignore the holes worn
     in the soles of my P.F. Flyers, the icy sidewalk pinching
          through to my feet, wondering—between

porch lights and door bells—just what exchanges with fortune
     were made in the dim back rooms of clouds that had
          me hocking pop bottles and feeling

magnanimous with 6¢ to drop into the box in front of class?  
     God, it's argued, allows us to hope, to see some light
          shining at the edge of our expectations,

but a fatigue arrives at evening—of the spirit, or the blood—
     sleep, old river, grey moonlit boat, easy drifting . . . .
          I want to avoid growing calm, even though

I gave up wine. Forget acclaim, rewards, the insider trading.  
     When I sat out on the dead Fresno lawns with friends,
          I was happy despite the jerky rumbas building

beneath my ribs. Now, I just want to breathe steadily
     as particles of light arriving from who-knows-where
           as I listen for gravity waves and

drum my fingers on the aluminum lawn chair, keeping
     an internal beat, the traffic of protons and electrons
          clicking about me like felt-lined castanets.
I might even be ready now for a bit of the theoretical,
     ungrounded as rocks in the asteroid belt,
          perhaps a little left-over Spinoza

that the self-promoting academic spin-doctors have not
     turned into grit—I might go so far as to accept
          the idea that, at the margin of the blue,

there is someone responsible for scribbling out my fate
     regardless of the interest generated, or the lack thereof.
          May his hand not cramp! Make me cheerful

for Christ's sake, as the blackbirds looking for their luck
     in the parking lot with their unqualified fellowship—
          but would I switch with them for all

their apparent joy? I'd rather stand in the road, rain clouds
     darkening the sky, and be aware of the improbability
          of life ever after. I've been stumped, and,

if Jesus knew one thing, it was that we are all going to die.
     California is burning and there is no way to recall
          the rains that rose out of the Mesozoic seas

to water forests from Carpathia to Punta Arenas. We've been
     on our own for ages, despite the cortege of angels
          we regularly blame for nodding off. 60 soon.

I should be grateful, and I am, but I don't quite feel like
     breaking out a piñata and a bottle of mescal, dancing
          on the table top to El Rancho Grande

a number of my compadres now among the dearly departed.  
     And this must be the main contributing factor to
          the reason I still remember all the words

to "September in the Rain," its slurry orchestration playing
     in the black & white background of so many of those
          cartoons we watched throughout the '50s.

In my defense, I can only point to the sun, going out like
     any dying ember. And so I'm content to go on making
          a fool of myself in front of the universe—

I baptize the planets, even ones we no longer acknowledge.
     May I catch light in a soup can, may my heart hold
          out against the randomness and rust.



© 2008 The Cortland Review