Gerald Stern

My Tenderness

One good sneeze deserves another, one good
stroke, one heart attack, since everything
comes in twos—I die for example if I don't
touch a door a second time, a brick wall, a
tree, or take my steps between the cracks, not
counting buckles, which is why I went crazy
walking with minced steps on the railroad ties
north of Governor Street in Iowa City
where I lived for nine years since there's no sense
pretending they come in twos—the rails themselves,
they come in twos—and God knows I couldn't hop
from rail to rail and I couldn't make my strides
that wide, leaving only the weeds below
and sky above, which after a while I saw was
the root to what I suffered from, trying to
bring them together, you'd have to leave Pennsylvania
and live in Iowa to see the separation
and know what a struggle it was to make the two
one, for which my humor was only an
endearment, maybe even my tenderness.

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