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About this Poem 

“The poem, which has an internal and musical logic, considers two things, Bohemia—good and bad—and the artist in his act. There is a turn, almost as if in a sonnet, in the eleventh line, which begins the second half of the poem; it is Michelangelo at his ceiling, and the Papal flunkies below, kicking the step ladder. But God communicated with her voice, not with her finger, as in Michelangelo (and Yeats).”
—Gerald Stern

Read Genesis

I was betrayed by Bohemia early
in my life and left a run-down hotel
with my eye swollen shut by an insect bite
but got my revenge in France and Italy
and wasn’t bitten once in those two countries.

I swore off free meals and book-stealing
both there and elsewhere and
if I got something for nothing
it wasn’t by schnorring
so have a heart, pedagogus.

Think of Baudelaire and his clouds
or Michelangelo on his step ladder
putting a little spit in for tone
and a gob or two for substance
just to please the flunkies down there

even as they kicked the wooden legs
their tongues out in excitement
though I have to interrupt to say
God did it with a voice not a finger,
n’est-ce pas?
 

Copyright © 2016 by Gerald Stern. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Gerald Stern. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 30, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern

Gerald Stern was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1925. His recent poetry collections include Divine Nothingness: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2014); In Beauty Bright: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2012); Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 (W. W. Norton, 2010), and Save the Last Dance: Poems (2008).

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There’s too little time left to measure
the space between us for that was
long ago—that time—so just lie
under the dark blue quilt and put
the fat pillows with the blue slips
on the great windowsill so we can
look over them and down to the
small figures hurrying by
in total

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Nostradamus generally predicted the
future but he also shined a clear
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regret some of the visions he had
because they weren’t precise enough
and could have been used for nefarious
thoughts or perilous judgments since,
after all, he was a

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Of all sixty of us I am the only one who went 
to the four corners though I don't say it
out of pride but more like a type of regret,
and I did it because there was no one I truly believed 
in though once when I climbed the hill in Skye
and arrived at the rough tables I saw the only other
elder who was a