Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye

By Gerald Stern b. 1925 Gerald Stern
Every city in America is approached
through a work of art, usually a bridge
but sometimes a road that curves underneath
or drops down from the sky. Pittsburgh has a tunnel—

you don’t know it—that takes you through the rivers   
and under the burning hills. I went there to cry   
in the woods or carry my heavy bicycle
through fire and flood. Some have little parks—

San Francisco has a park. Albuquerque   
is beautiful from a distance; it is purple
at five in the evening. New York is Egyptian,   
especially from the little rise on the hill

at 14-C; it has twelve entrances
like the body of Jesus, and Easton, where I lived,   
has two small floating bridges in front of it   
that brought me in and out. I said good-bye

to them both when I was 57. I’m reading
Joseph Wood Krutch again—the second time.
I love how he lived in the desert. I’m looking at the skull   
of Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m kissing Stieglitz good-bye.

He was a city, Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library   
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.   
I’m kissing him good-bye; he was, for me,

the last true city; after him there were   
only overpasses and shopping centers,   
little enclaves here and there, a skyscraper   
with nothing near it, maybe a meaningless turf

where whores couldn’t even walk, where nobody sits,   
where nobody either lies or runs; either that   
or some pure desert: a lizard under a boojum,   
a flower sucking the water out of a rock.

What is the life of sadness worth, the bookstores   
lost, the drugstores buried, a man with a stick   
turning the bricks up, numbering the shards,   
dream twenty-one, dream twenty-two. I left

with a glass of tears, a little artistic vial.
I put it in my leather pockets next
to my flask of Scotch, my golden knife and my keys,   
my joyful poems and my T-shirts. Stieglitz is there

beside his famous number; there is smoke
and fire above his head; some bowlegged painter   
is whispering in his ear; some lady-in-waiting   
is taking down his words. I’m kissing Stieglitz

good-bye, my arms are wrapped around him, his photos   
are making me cry; we’re walking down Fifth Avenue;   
we’re looking for a pencil; there is a girl
standing against the wall—I’m shaking now

when I think of her; there are two buildings, one   
is in blackness, there is a dying poplar;
there is a light on the meadow; there is a man
on a sagging porch. I would have believed in everything.

Gerald Stern, “Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye” from This Time: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1998 by Gerald Stern. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: This Time: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1998)

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Poet Gerald Stern b. 1925

Subjects Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

Occasions Farewells & Good Luck

 Gerald  Stern

Biography

Gerald Stern has been called an “American original,” “a sometimes comic, sometimes tragic visionary,” and, by his friend Stanley Kunitz, “the wilderness in American poetry.” Over dozens of books, and decades of teaching and activism, Stern has emerged as one of America’s most celebrated and irascible poets. “If I could choose one poem of mine to explain my stance,” Stern told Contemporary Poets, “it would be ‘The One Thing in . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Cities & Urban Life, Social Commentaries

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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