February 2002

Gerald Stern


Gerald Stern lives in Lambertville, New Jersey, and is the (first) Poet Laureate of New Jersey. He is the author of twelve books of poetry, the winner of many major awards, including, in 1998, the National Book Award for This Time: New and Selected Poems. Last Blue: Poems was published in 2000, by W. W. Norton, and his new book, American Sonnets, also by Norton, will be published this spring.
The Hammer     

What did a foot of snow matter when I
was upstairs with my hammer banging against
the radiators, and what good was my threadbare
camel's hair coat and white silk scarf inside
that freezing office I paid seven dollars a month
for, including heat, and what did it matter that I
grew up on the wrong side of the Alleghenies
and got the news from New York, oh five, ten years
too late, and was the hammer well-balanced or not?
And did I wear my coat when I read and did I
wear the scarf like a babushka or wasn't there
a green beret somewhere, and what did my moustache
have to do with it, and wasn't it fine,
that waiting, and wasn't the floor covered with paper
the way a floor should be, a perfect record of
a year or so in that ruined mountain city
where I spoke out on my side of the burned-over slag heap?




For the sake of the fleabane growing rose a little
in the white to give it a natural look, almost
a tree with the branches going left and right and
leaves in the lower limbs, the center golden
and fecund there at the side of the yard as if to
apologize, the petals, if those are petals,
thin as threads, I touch my cream-colored hat;
and for the sake of the hat itself, since hats
are holy to any unreformed Jew, I stand
in front of the single rose o'Sharon the deer
ignore—as far as eating—and extend
my hand to the blossoms and thank them for their time—
by folding and crushing my hat, my wrists spread out on
my chest, by pushing the brim to the top of my brow
as if I were sweating, by putting the hat on sideways,
then backwards, then with my right hand touching the rear
ribbon and tilting the peak downward, then taking
the crease out—like a derby, then pulling it down
almost to my ears, all this to thank them
for blooming over and over, for not disappearing.



Gerald Stern: Poetry
Copyright © 2002 The Cortland Review Issue 19The Cortland Review