Gerald Stern

November 28, 2016 Stern Gerald



For a moment I was on trial

and I looked at my three judges

with something not of contempt exactly

but more of curiosity distance but respect

even something of pity which surprised me

for those who held my future in their hands

as if it were a bottle and they were shaking it

with the thumb on the lid the way you do

with Hire’s root beer or RC Cola,

the one a colonel of sorts and the other two of

lesser rank I’d say a major and

something even lesser probably a captain

and nothing there of Oliver Wendell Holmes

or Benjamin Cordoza or Thurgood Marshall

and though I was 21 and hardly schooled

in Micah on the one hand or legal wrath

on the other I by nature

hated hierarchy and privilege

and pomposity and hated

saluting and marching in every kind of formation

especially “parade rest,” I hated “parade rest”

and it was a full year later I first read Kafka

so I knew nothing of his Trial nor did I know

the teachings of this prophet from that

but I already knew Micah before I knew it was Micah

and my estrangement was compounded by ignorance

which freed me everywhere I went

and after two days when I was liberated

my instinct was to kiss the three judges

but I was instructed to make peace with

my prosecutor and it was only a few days

after I “formally” learned of the connections

between justice and mercy and though

I didn’t walk humble before anyone

I treated trees with kindness and even—

forgive me—ants and mosquitoes

as an act of gratitude to the captain,

the major and the colonel though I

still longed for Thurgood Marshall as I do

now for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.

Gerald Stern’s two most recent books are Galaxy Love and Death Watchhis next book will be called Blessed as We Were: Late Selected and New.