Gerald Stern’s tablecloth art

Tonight I saw Gerald Stern read at Smith. He wore a sort of golfer’s cap, and he was funny and charming and knew it. He sung a World War II song about Pearl Harbor, and he told a story about someone’s pet deer named “My Dear” (or “My Deer,” he wasn’t sure), and he called Henry Ford a bastard apropos of nothing, and he explained how he has a plaster pig in his living room.

The first poem he read, called “Pile of Feathers,” was about his cats attacking a pile of feathers where they wanted a dead bird to be and had this great line:

“Like Americans on the Ganges, / their long legs twisted in embarrassment, / their knees scraping the stones, / they begin crawling after the spirit.”

When I went up afterward to get my book signed, he was looking down at the rollerball pen in his hand and at the white tablecloth in front of him. As I walked up he drew one black line on the tablecloth. Then he looked up, saw me, and said, “Look at this!” and then kept drawing. I turned my head to see from his perspective. He’d proceeded to quickly draw a simple profile in three lines, the eye made out of a sideways loop like a Greek alpha. I don’t know what exactly he was telling me to look at–perhaps simply how nicely the pen drew on the fabric of the tablecloth (as a ballpoint would not have)–but I sure did like it.


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