Linda Stern

Condolence Call

It's to your credit that you travel there.
Be sure to take cash with you when you go.
You'll take a train and then a bus to nowhere
And then you'll walk ten minutes to the wake.

Be sure to take cash with you when you go,
And have a bite to eat before you get there.
You'll walk a good ten minutes to the wake.
There's no telling what you'll see and hear.

Please have a bite to eat before you get there.
They won't have food. Maybe they'll have spirits.
There's no telling what you'll see and hear.
He was so young--oh, his parents!

They won't have food, and people's spirits
Will be unhinged, because he
Was so young. And oh, his parents,
They'll grip you without mercy.

They'll be unhinged because he was
No older than you are, my son.
They'll grip you without mercy.
Just think where you belong.

A boy no older than you are, my son.
Come back across the river.
Recall where you belong.
Come home to grieve and live.

It's a journey I would spare you if I could.
You'll take a train and then a bus to nowhere.
Be on your best behavior. Be kind.
It's to your credit that you travel there.

Music of the Spheres

Inside the train doors, a tall man wearing
a black coat, an upright bass in his arms
balanced on its single wheel, kept from harm
by its black case and the tall man's bearing.

He is perhaps a man who loves machines
though the bass is no ordinary one.
It's as close to celestial as we come,
a murmur of sound, breath of seraphim.

I think of you, how you loved them--engines
that pull coal or cattle along a track,
that send us through the universe and back,
vanquishing what only God imagines.

In heaven there's a special place for men
who stop the clock. But too you learned to own
instruments meant to stop blood, breath, and bone,
were trained to break one down, build it up. Then

lying in foreign dirt, to pull it out,
fill the barrel, hoist it high, aim it well.
For men who make them, there's a place in hell.
The train doors open. The man looks about.

He lifts the bass and leaves the halted cars.
Then gently he places the single wheel
on the station platform, where he can feel
the long strings inside vibrate with the stars.

Writing an Obit

You need the basics--birth date, parents, place.
Avoid "survived by." He's not a war zone.
A bit on early schooling, early jobs--
but further down, not at the start. And yes,
marriages--how they ended in divorce
or death, or never were. But start with this:
the major deal, the big event. Thus how
he made his way, his lucky breaks, mentors,
protégés, why he deserves two columns
or six or eight, or even a Page One,
that jumps gazelle-like to another spread.
Please add some quotes, about and from, for more
than color. Good enough to make us smile.
Choose well. Of course, you'll deal with scandals too--
perhaps he's even most well-known for those.
Too bad. Be firm but kind. We need to know.
But mostly what we need is to be left
not sad, but slightly rueful--just a bit.
As if the world's less textured, palpable,
and promising without him, that we wish
we'd had the chance to meet him. Not despair.
More this: A life of passion, love, and fame
is not beyond us.
Maybe we too can
someday write it, dance it, play it, build it.
While we finish our morning coffee, while
we turn the page, and turn the page, and turn.

The Israelite Slave Learns Prayer

And God said to Moses, "Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh."
--Exodus 3.14

From all the names of God I've chosen one,
and that is peace or love or mystery,
redeemer, healer, father, holy one.
From all the names of God I've chosen one:
so rock or shield or savior; fate or un-
dividedness, truth, mercy, jealousy.
From all the names of God I've chosen one,
and that is peace or love or mystery.

God's chosen name is chosen too for me,
and I am mercy, truth or love or peace,
or beauty, oneness, joy, or harmony.
God's chosen name is chosen too for me.
In me all things--God's rage, God's victory.
In me God yearns for nothingness to cease.
God's chosen name is chosen too for me,
and I am mercy, truth or love or peace.


Linda Stern has published poems in The New Criterion, Promethean, The Raintown Review, BigCityLit, and Kin among other publications and has poems forthcoming in American Arts Quarterly and Songs for a Passbook Torch, an anthology. Her first collection, Why We Go By Twos, is being published by Barefoot Muse Press in 2015. She co-published the poetry magazine Endymion and, more recently, was associate editor of the online poetry journal Umbrella. Linda Stern lives in New York City and works as an editor.


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