…what will you be filling up with this weekend?
by Keren Rose
Dings and Doodles
Will be a poetry inspired weekend having picked up The Lives of the Heart and Come, Thief – both by Jane Hirshfield. Then, after reading an essay about poet Gerald Stern in the May June 2014 issue of The American Poetry Review, I also placed his collection, Leaving Another Kingdom, on the reading to-do list.
Stern’s poem, The Dancing, caught my eye:
In all these rotten shops, in all this broken
and wrinkled ties and baseball trophies and
I have never seen a post-war Philco
with the automatic eye
nor heard Ravel’s “Bolero” the way I did
in 1945 in that tiny living room
on Beechwood Boulevard, nor danced as I did
then, my knives all flashing, my hair all
my mother red with laughter, my father cupping
his left hand under his armpit, doing the dance
of old Ukraine, the sound of his skin half drum,
half fart, the world at last a meadow,
the three of us whirling and singing, the three
screaming and falling, as if we were dying,
as if we could never stop—in 1945—
in Pittsburgh, beautiful filthy Pittsburgh, home
of the evil Mellons, 5,000 miles away
from the other dancing—in Poland and
oh God of mercy, oh wild God.
From the essay, Who’s Minding the Story by Alicia Ostriker:
What is the event? What is meant by this scene of the past that the poet has never been able to retrieve—what is it about the Philco, the Ravel, the dancing? As a reader of “The Dancing” I feel it surge through me, without asking what it means. This is often the case with Stern’s poems. Here is what I tentatively think, however, when I pause to think. After evoking a world of secondhand junk, and then the childhood world of the post-immigrant generation with its strange dance, the crude hilarity of “half drum, half fart” turning inexplicably to the sheer beauty of “the world at last a meadow” and the glee accelerating with “screaming and falling, as if we were dying, / as if we could never stop,” and then the ante upped again with the “beautiful filthy” city and the “evil Mellons” of Stern’s lifelong love and hatred, what is that “other dancing?” Stern expects me to know that Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945. I think he wants me to feel that “other dancing” in Poland and Germany as the dance of the newly- rescued almost-doomed Jews of Europe, a third of them having died indeed. And what of the almost- exhausted gasp of the final line, invoking the God who rescued some thousands, and failed to rescue millions? That God is wild as a wild card is wild— unpredictable.
Go read a poem this weekend…