Five Points, Vol. 21, No. 3
The Marble Hour
IN MEMORIAM GERALD STERN (1925–2022)
Ever since I read “96 Vandam” in my powder-blue room in Stanley Diamond’s third-story walkup on 110th, I’ve wanted to shield my eyes from the greasy sun and listen to the great architects and masons— katydids and tree frogs—erect the walls of summer, I’ve wanted to tell the ashen squirrels about a knot of loss that tightens, day by day, halfway down my throat,and ask how they cope with their own erasures, swooping soundlessly, razor-beaked, shaped like angels. If they talk about kissing each other with the small, furred mouths of their wounds, if they speak with the torn lips of immigrant Ukrainian Jews, then I will phone up Jerry and tell him of the rapture that swallowed me whole one winter morning in Brigantine, New Jersey, when I felt a horse’s legs inside my legs, next to the green sea-light, and galloped until my hoofmarks joined the countless forgotten memories of sand. I know what he would tell me in his deerhorn-velvet wisdom, mistaking me for one of his rotten angels—Gilbert, say—calling collect again in the middle of the night, botching the time zones, from Limbo. Jack, he’d say, it isn’t until you find the latch that unlocks the ribs and liberates the lungs, until you stare into and through the gray stones of your own eyes, it’s not until you break out of a thick wood into a clearing, and stand on the bank of a lake—mirror under blue-black silk— that you’ll understand why I lugged around a mattress in that poem years ago, why I haul it still, in my 96th year, from home to grocery to P.O. box and back. It wasn’t because I was running experiments on the sexual energy harnessed from dreaming in motion, street to street, and it wasn’t because I’d seen and been too many ghosts by then, and needed the security of metal springs and foam. It was because I tried to heft the piano and almost broke myself, and because in every person’s life there comes a time, one hour, that is cast in a pose of either freedom or constraint—a marble hour with shoulders thrust back, arms flung out, or wrenched in contortions of woe. In the right light, that hour can take on life, and with the right ten-pound, hickory-handled sledge it can be hammered to bits. My hour wanted bashing and I knew, if I could finish the job, I’d need a place to crash.