from Not God After All by Gerald Stern

Not God After All [Autumn House, 2004, with pencil illustrations by Sheba Sharrow] is a small book of very small poems. Or aphorisms, or petite narratives, as Stern calls them in his introduction, all written over a period of two weeks in the Spring of 2002. This is a very unusual poetry collection, but also so very Gerald Stern, a written record of little bits of conversations and arguments a sharp, passionate, political, poetic mind was having with itself. I’m copying some of my favorites here, thinking that they’ll become writing prompts or first lines, as Dickinson’s opening lines were for me earlier this spring.

.
For my immortality
I wear only purple socks
.

.
A beaver eating loosestrife,
none of us could believe it.
.

.
I’ll never forget Saul Bellow’s
camel-hair coat
.

.
A fire I understand,
but how do you make a flood?
.

.
The reckless affection of
her unconditional love.
.

.
The poem about me is the
best poem you ever wrote
.

.
The Shit Out of Luck Blues,
Weary Blues, Potato Skin Blues.
.

.
A palm tree has finally
wrapped itself around my heart.
.

.
What a life with women, I’m
just now thinking it over.
.

.
The happiness of the dogs
running into the waters.
.

.
Her T-shirt gets tangled
when she turns over in the grass.
.

.
Always the goyische kopf
doesn’t get it—the Joosh joke.
.

.
Dream is I went from city
to city speaking Yiddish.
.

.
Charity is the right foot of
justice—sometimes the knee.
.

.
I had a way of letting the fire
rage under the dross.
.

.
The smiling face of
industrial consolidation.
.

.
Her height, her passion, her courage,
her humor, her cunning.
.

.
To be managed, that is the
most threatening thing of all.
.

.
Now obsess on the wet kiss,
now obsess on the red knife.
.

.
Bartok at the Bronx zoo
on his way to the polar bears.
.

.
Except he lacked love, he was
almost a Jew, Ulysses.
.

.
Burning bituminous and
loving the stink of blue gas.
.

.
Between her thighs the odor
of magnolia, smell it!
.

.
Honor your poet, one of
Moses’ shattered commandments.
.

.
Rebecca, if there is an
afterworld, you will have it.
.

.
I caught someone loving his
enemy and turned to stone.
.

.
Hath not a Jew helicopters,
hath he not bazookas?
.

.
I possess the truth—have a
Chinese pear in the meantime.
.

.
It burns the eyes and the lungs, the
taste of it in the mouth!
.

.
Poverty, ignorance, super-
stition, mice—I miss you!
.

.
Melancholy, you
prude, I devoted my life to you.
.

.
What is more bloodthirsty and
oppressive, God or Country?
.

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