Poetry Month 2016: Gerald Stern
Thinking About Shelley Arm over arm I swam out into the rain, across from the cedars and the rickety conveyor. I had the quarry all to myself again, even the path down to the muddy bank. Every poet in the world was dead but mt. Yeats was dead, Victor Hugo was dead, Cavity was dead—with every kick I shot a jet of water into the air—you could see me coming a mile away, my shoulders rolling the way my father’s did. I started moving out into the open between the two ill islands, thinking about Shelley and his milky body. No one had been here before—I was the first poet to swim in this water—I would be the mystery, I would be the source for all the others to come. The rivers of China were full of poets, the lakes of Finland, the ponds of southern France, but no one in Pennsylvania had swum like this across an empty quarry. I remember at the end I turned on my back to give my neck a rest; I remember floating into the weeds and letting my shoulders touch the greasy stones; I remember lying on the coarse sand and reaching up for air. This happened in June before the berries were out, before the loosestrife covered the hills, before the local sinners took off their clothes and waded like huge birds in the cold water. It was the first warm day and I was laboring in this small sea. I remember how I hoped my luck would last; I remember the terror of the middle and how I suddenly relaxed after passing the islands; I remember it was because of Shelley that I changed my innocent swim into such a struggle, that it was because of Shelley I dragged my body up, tired and alive, to the small landing under the flowering highway, full of silence now and clarity. [from This Time: New and Selected Poems] ~ From the publisher’s Web site: Gerald Stern is the author of the National Book Award-winning This Time, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize-winning Early Selected Poems, and other books. He has also been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award, among many other honors. He lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.