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With me, it wasn’t a yellow cab
but an orange streetcar going 40 mph
on a hillside through the woods and everything
shaking and rattling and through a short tunnel
slightly lit by dim blue lights a seat for
the conductor, a kind of throne I sometimes sat on
and that makes two things gone this morning, I’m only
counting for obsession’s sake, I thought of
the card we put in the living room window, “ice”
it said on one side, “coal” the other, but I’ve
done that already, how about making colored
fans and selling them door to door, how about
being a helper and shoveling the dirty coal
down the chutes at 25 cents an hour—
I have to check if anyone else has done this,
one of my upstate or New England friends,
I loved to watch men working, I loved to sit
and eat with them, and see them smoke and listen
to them talk, they were my first prophets.

—Gerald Stern

“Decades”, from GALAXY LOVE: POEMS by Gerald Stern.

Copyright © 2017 by Gerald Stern.

Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Gerald Stern (1925- ), winner of the 2012 Rebekah Johnson National Prize for Poetry at the Library of Congress, is the author of over 20 poetry collections, including Galaxy Love (W. W. Norton, 2017).

Learn more about Gerald Stern at The Poetry Foundation.