blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2010  Vol. 9  No. 2
print version

Note to Gerald Stern Too Long for the Post Card

No one tells me anything. I don’t know
if the juncos in California migrate or not,
and I can’t find out on the Internet if we have
the Oregon or the Mexican brand? But like most
birds, I occasionally need to get out of town,
and drove up 101, donating to the oil companies
and stock portfolios for Bush and Cheney’s grandkids
as I went—
            such is the price of a hijacked democracy,
of driving to San Francisco to see friends—all of us now
so far away from where we started out, ragged and reckless
in gas-stingy Volkswagens, ribbons sewn on the cuffs
of our bell-bottomed jeans, sleeping a week or two
on someone’s couch between the miserable jobs
of youth.
         How I got from there to the Fairmont hotel,
even with the discounts, I can’t quite figure, talking
aches and organs now, instead of books and the last
insider trading in New York?
                                        I take a bus
to North Beach and sit at a table outside
Café Puccini with a $3 decaf and listen to the aria
soaring from the counter to the sidewalk
and think how transcendent Pavarotti was—
bless his volume, his beatific register and range—
any god listening would have given him more time . . .
I never had the chance to hear him live, to rise from my seat
with my soul expanded.
                                  And I was wondering
where in the world your new book was,
and someone who was not Pavarotti was singing
“E Lucevan le Stelle” in the Café Puccini for Christ’s sake
as I sat in the shade leaving the red wine alone—
coffee in the big white cup, meatless sandwich,
passing on the cannolis, hoping to buy
more time, intending to get up and down the hills
on my own two feet, with my own short choruses
of breath, the cable cars $5 a pop as they knew
we were coming . . .
                        So I walked to that bookstore
off Columbus where everyone’s been going since the ‘50s,
and climbed the stairs where they keep the poetry
and other dangerous materials, and found that tiny dog
rescued on Ninth Street, and the lost poets, and the lost loves—
Thom McCann and the fluoroscope, the amazing bones
of our feet there mid-century, glowing and green
like a bad horror flick.
                             And when I think of
Save The Last Dance, I think of The Drifters,
of my high school gym in Santa Barbara, someone
in blue taffeta, or the blameless sea off Santorini,
or my blue surfer Sperry deck shoes—every simple thing
radiating, and the glimmering half-life going out, 
except back there, in that amber light . . . . 
And I want to know which old love songs, which false-hearted
politicians we should never forget? And why not still curse
the lying sonsofbitches?  It’s never too late to let out
with something appropriate on all their houses,
to update my list for the lower rings of hell. Forest fires
have burned 3/5ths of the state, and we’re almost out of water,
my poor pal Gary, evacuated from his house again—
and when it was saved he joked that he dashed out the door
with just my books in his arms, having thrown all the Krugerrands
into his lap-pool to keep them from melting!
                                                                May we all live
on air! I’ve put in my time practicing, and years worrying,
which is my special talent, along with writing on free post cards
from the Café Puccini, where I keep turning pages
to find the music we’ve lost, the riffs that keep a little faith
no matter how much finally I don’t understand about eternity—
never mind that there are no notices, or announcements,
no travel updates while I am struggling for enlightenment
here in the shade of a tree or two—or that my mother
flew off into whatever ever-after this spring
and just a few fading trills from a spotted towhee
by way of a clue, and the sun again into the sea
without exaltation . . . the only news the hit & run
rhythm of my heart worn down with virus or booze—
the verdict never coming in, just four medications
to outlast whatever it is, to avoid the dual-pronged wires
and industrial-strength device. . .
                                             And usually,
I’d finish my sandwich, but there are carbohydrates in everything,
and then the concupiscent Italian pastry shop only ten steps
across the street with its nougat and three kinds of cannoli,
though I’ve mentioned them before, the glorious temptation
and confection of the world—the longing and the lack
of remedy.  I leave the crusts on the plate,
there being no blackbirds to befriend, there being no
mind-limbering assistance from a modest glass of Zinfandel
as I read here in the shade—not on assignment, no research
project, just a short vacation, but still trying to dig up
a little background material on the universe
wherever I might find it.
                                Not a feather of wind
off the Pacific, a high-pressure system over
all of California—just the recitative of light
and the bells from Washington Square to amplify
the illuminated dusts sifting down from the high windows
of the hotel with the lasting fact of our lives—
and the uninformed glory-be of our blood,
and the listening, and the deliberation of the wings.  end

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