Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tuesday Poem, "Men," by Bert Stern


Kenny's bad boy's across the street,
washing his car, a black Camarro
with V8 engine, white letter
tires, and Holly carbs,
just like his dad's.
Sundays, they both drive out
to car shows, but my show's
just out the window, where the cars
lie dreaming like black cats.

Around here, people are
their cars, even the heap
another father and son lie under
in their driveway chop shop
next door to Kenny's.

As for Angie, the kid
washing his Camarro, I know
his dirty little secrets. I saw him
on the avenue yesterday, outside
his car, laid back against the burnished
hood, telling a brown-skinned girl
to get in. Instead, she tossed
her black hair and walked away,
he still yelling as she moved
fast down the street, already
half a block away. For a moment
he froze in wrathful astonishment,
then, like a flash, his u-turn
trails stink of burnt rubber.
I saw him catch her, drag her in
almost before she could scream,
and they're off to where I don't
want to think about.

I know there's karma somewhere,
but across the street, as Angie wipes
a chamois over the car's flanks, his face
is open and innocent as a child's.
Watching him, I shake my head.
Maybe he'll get better as years
press down on him. Or maybe,
just now, he's touched as I am
by the clear sky of Mary's blue
hanging over us, as if to soothe
our frayed angers and heal
the bruised heart of the girl,
naked, defenseless against us.

by Bert Stern
from his book, Steerage
published by Ibbetson Street Press

Bert is Milligan Professor Emeritus at Wabash College and chief editor, retired, at Hilton Publishing. He and his wife, Tam Lin Neville, co-edit a small press that publishes books by poets over sixty. He also teaches at a program in Boston for people on probation.

He has a long list of credits, reviews and poems which have been published. His critical study, Wallace Stevens: Art of Uncertainty, was published by the University of Michigan Press in 1965.

Steerage, his first book of poems, may be purchased from Ibbetson Press.

In my most vague and peculiar way, I've been trying, without doing much of anything, to get in contact with Bert Stern. Of course, a friend had left his e-mail in my e-mail box a month ago, but I didn't notice. Finally, I did it and he's given me permission to use his work which I will do for the next few weeks on Tuesday Poem.

Bert is a most charming and gregarious man, often to be found at the Bagel Bard's meeting place at Au Bon Pain in Somerville on Saturday mornings. I hope to see him there this week.


  1. I admire the gentle "Maybe . . . . maybe," and the poet in the poem including himself: "us."

  2. Oh yes the 'us'- the last line is a killer - and the poem before that seemed to be winding down... Great stuff, thanks Melissa. And I love the story of the poet - if I'm ever going past Au Bon Pain in Somerville, I'll want to pop in and say hi. Sounds a great guy.

  3. Thank you for introducing us to Bert Stern, Melissa - I'm looking forward to reading more of his work on coming Tuesdays. This poem provides us with a number of sharp-focus portraits - even the cars are given personality, the chamois a tender role. It's a challenging piece for me.