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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).

by this poet

poem
Since there was no mother for the peach tree we did it 
all alone, which made the two of us closer
though closeness brought its loneliness, and it would
have been better I think sometimes to be sterile
from the start just to avoid the pain 
which in my life this far has lasted seventy
years for I am in love with
poem

Nostradamus generally predicted the
future but he also shined a clear
light into the past and lived to
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

poem
The whole point was getting rid of glut
for which I starved myself and lived with the heat down
and only shaved oh every five days and used
a blunt razor for months so that my cheek
was not only red but the hair was bent not cut
for which I then would be ready for the bicycle
and the broken wrist, for which—oh