By Gerald Stern
(posted Wednesday, Nov. 4, 1998)
To hear the poet read “Pennsylvania Bio,” click here.
I wore a black knit hatso I could be undistinguished in the warand carried a small bagso I could be mistaken for a doctor,
and once in a whorehouse while waiting for a friend of mine to finishI examined the madam on the kitchen table; and I spent Sunday at either the Serbian Club
or the post-war Literary Club on Atwood Street above the pre-war clothing store, and ate hot sausage sandwiches and cold buttermilk across the street from the first Carnegie Library
and made plans for the next seventy years. I drove Andy Warhol to the East Liberty train station in my father’s 1949 Ford. Believe it or not I bought a 1949 Buick
thirteen years later for fifteen dollars and drove it into a junkyard six years after. My first instrument was a kind of kazoo and that led naturally to a French trombone. I was
loyal to my own music for fifty years though I detested snare drums and tap dancing, just as I do those singers now who hold their left fists in the air while holding the microphone
inside their mouths. And I hate short sleeved shirts when they wear them with dark neckties, skinny swine knocking on closed doors; and I had a habit of counting bricks, a nice obsession compared with
washing hands or touching car doors, it gave mefreedom with walls so I could handle bulging and sagging when I had to; and one of the summers I read Steinbeck and made love–in the bedroom–
to my aunt’s cleaning woman in upstate Pennsylvania and learned to adore the small town with its rows of stores and trees on the sidewalk and only a short walk into the country, in this case up a steep hill,
the dogs more sullen the farther up you went, and Russian and Roman churches below, the sunlight on the river, the bridge empty, the outer one half-hidden, I was shocked by the sudden distance
and I had a Brown’s Beach jacket with a reddish thorn in one of the pockets, which was my toothpick for thirty-five years, and a vest to match, and a flattened acorn I kept in the darkness; and I had a pencil
I used to keep my balance, the edges were eaten,the lead was grey, the green eraser was worn down to the metal, and I had a spiral notebook I kept for emotions, and I folded my money.