Linda Stern

Failed Adams

This one is puny and has no finesse,
something awkward in its constitution.
That one lacks a certain politesse,
incapable of mental evolution.

One you showed to various seraphim
for comments. And they worried it to death.
Another never made it past the dream
stage--just as well, considering its heft.

Each failed attempt you hurled to outer space,
seeding its corners with your dark largesse,
those imperfect samples of your taste
you couldn't bear to crush to nothingness.

Fed up, depressed, you finally stopped one night,
hoping, but not convinced, you'd got this last one right.

The Power of Doubt

First Abraham, how he went up,
bent on an awful deed, to Mount
Moriah and was saved by doubt,
or goat, from really screwing up.

Fast-forward to Jacob, who fought
with angels. Was he mad? half so?
What holy riddles did he know
To wrestle for the peace he sought?

Then enigmatic Mary owned
the selfsame view: Doubt keeps in you
like a star or stone--all that's true.
Don't let on what you know and don't.

So too the child who's jumping rope,
the bearer of a human heart,
feels what it is to stop and start
and knows that doubt's the only hope.

USO Recording

I found a forty-five, a USO
recording you made for her before
shipping out seventy years or more
ago. You sounded artless, sweet, so

calm, as you chanted, almost pensive,
a Torah verse from your bar mitzvah,
since, you softly said, you knew your ma
loved to hear you chant, surely sensing

this would be, though you didn't say it,
your voice immortal on scratchy vinyl,
how she could have again a final
pleasure, forever, some holy writ.

Like a dutiful son and so young
you sounded, though she knew you were wild
as a man, as you'd been as a child,
quick-tempered, fearless, brash. But you'd sung

a few short verses. And that was all
for Abraham's God to say, Enough.
For him, just some shrapnel, other stuff,
half his face lost, a blasted eyeball.

After all, to sing so takes some soul.
It was Rosh Hashanah, which you knew,
because you said, And, oh, Ma, happy new
year, maybe hoping you could cajole

her. You were the favored, youngest, son.
You guessed what she was thinking about--
how to manage, how to wait it out,
the year you left, the year that had begun.

Late Conversation

From the window in the room where you lay,
you could see the garden, the crowded row
of orange lilies, glads, and mums, the red
brick border of the backyard flower bed,
the path that gave you such trouble that you
set the slate pieces in an awkward way.

The old bench by the far wall is hopeful.
I've painted it the deep green that you love,
and I've filled the glass feeder you put up,
red sugar water that hummingbirds sip.
This is what matters, you said from above,
descending the ladder in the evening lull.

Now a squirrel's found the concrete statue's
broken boy and bow, scaled the tree behind
to build a nest. He hides his treasures there.
I confess that sometimes I interfere.
Is he ever puzzled, do you think, to find,
beneath the oak's dead leaves, almonds, cashews?


Linda Stern's poems have appeared in The New Criterion, Promethean, Balaam's Ass, The Raintown Review, and BigCityLit, among other publications. Stern organized the Sweet Singers reading series, which featured readings by Samuel Menashe and other notable writers. With her husband, the poet David M. Katz, she co-published the poetry magazine Endymion, and more recently, she was associate editor of the online poetry journal Umbrella. Stern lives in New York City and works as an editor.


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