Gerald Stern reads
Behaving Like a Jew, Underground Dancing, and I Remember Galileo
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Behaving Like a Jew Originally published in Lucky Life (1977) When I got there the dead opossum looked like an enormous baby sleeping on the road. It took me only a few seconds—just seeing him there—with the hole in his back and the wind blowing through his hair to get back again into my animal sorrow. I am sick of the country, the bloodstained bumpers, the stiff hairs sticking out of the grilles, the slimy highways, the heavy birds refusing to move; I am sick of the spirit of Lindbergh over everything, that joy in death, that philosophical understanding of carnage, that concentration on the species. —I am going to be unappeased at the opossum’s death. I am going to behave like a Jew and touch his face, and stare into his eyes, and pull him off the road. I am not going to stand in a wet ditch with the Toyotas and the Chevies passing over me at sixty miles an hour and praise the beauty and the balance and lose myself in the immortal lifestream when my hands are still a little shaky from his stiffness and his bulk and my eyes are still weak and misty from his round belly and his curved fingers and his black whiskers and his little dancing feet. Underground Dancing Originally published in Lucky Life (1977) There’s a bird pecking at the fat; there’s a dead tree covered with snow; there’s a truck dropping cinders on the slippery highway. There’s life in my backyard— black wings beating on the branches, greedy eyes watching, mouths screaming and fighting over the greasy ball. There’s a mole singing hallelujah. Close the rotten doors! Let everyone go blind! Let everyone be buried in his own litter. I Remember Galileo Originally published in The Red Coal (1981) I remember Galileo describing the mind as a piece of paper blown around by the wind, and I loved the sight of it sticking to a tree or jumping into the back seat of a car, and for years I watched paper leap through my cities; but yesterday I saw the mind was a squirrel caught crossing Route 80 between the wheels of a giant truck, dancing back and forth like a thin leaf, or a frightened string, for only two seconds living on the white concrete before he got away, his life shortened by all that terror, his head jerking, his yellow teeth ground down to dust. It was the speed of the squirrel and his lowness to the ground, his great purpose and the alertness of his dancing, that showed me the difference between him and paper. Paper will do in theory, when there is time to sit back in a metal chair and study shadows; but for this life I need a squirrel, his clawed feet spread, his whole soul quivering, the hot wind rushing through his hair, the loud noise shaking him from head to tail. O philosophical mind, O mind of paper, I need a squirrel finishing his wild dash across the highway, rushing up his green ungoverned hillside.