The Inkspots

by Gerald Stern

The thing about the dove was how he cried in
my pocket and stuck his nose out just enough to
breathe some air and get some snow in his eye and
he would have snuggled in but I was afraid
and brought him into the house so he could shit on
the New York Times, still I had to kiss him
after a minute, I put my lips to his beak
and he knew what he was doing, he stretched his neck
and touched me with his open mouth, lifting
his wings a little and readjusting his legs,
loving his own prettiness, and I just
sang from one of my stupid songs from one of my
vile decades, the way I do, I have to
admit it was something from trains. I knew he’d like that,
resting in the coal car, slightly dusted with
mountain snow, somewhere near Altoona,
the horseshoe curve he knew so well, his own
moan matching the train’s, a radio
playing the Inkspots, the engineer roaring.

Notes on the Poem

Sometimes, a poem can just be about the simple pleasures, can't it? Those pleasures abound in Gerald Stern's "The Inkspots." "The thing about" is one of those cozy verbal tics that you hear a friend use when he is picking up the running conversation of your friendship where it last left off. It's storytelling connective tissue that demarcates the start of a new tale without really meaning anything else. Stern immediately and intimately draws you into the story of this poem from the first words. That tone of intimacy and warmth continues with Stern's choice of words - casual, even unassumingly and guiltlessly incorrect. Think about it: a bird doesn't have a nose, but Stern strikes such a comfortable rapport with us that he doesn't even correct the imprecise reference. Maybe he means to be a bit comical, which he'd only do with friends who aren't going to correct his terminology. It's kind of sweet, actually. Would you admit to just anyone that you'd kissed a little bird, then sang to it "from one of my stupid songs"? Would you use the word "shit" with just anyone? Again, Stern speaks to us as friends ... friends who would also know just how he feels about, say, the editorial stance of the New York Times. Stern makes passing reference to his "vile decades" and seems to know that we're still here, not judging. We either don't mind or don't really think he was ever vile, because he rambles from the story about the dove to reminiscences about music as a soundtrack to how he enjoyed train travel at one or maybe many times. Not only can a poem be simply about the simple pleasures - helping a wild creature, reveling in its tiny beauty, sharing the story with a friend, seguing into other memories - but it can be a simple pleasure unto itself.

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