We recently featured a segment on one of America’s most acclaimed poets: Gerald Stern.  We followed him to a couple of readings – one at Farley’s Bookshop in New Hope, PA, and one at Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art in Newark, NJ.  Our third location was his front porch in Lambertville, NJ.

Stern read a bunch of poems for us, but they didn’t all make the final cut.  However, this particular take of his poem “Grapefruit” is a fun one to watch.  It was shot on a freakishly blustery day, and you can see the weather changing drastically behind him as he reads, smiling as the sounds of his town – barking dogs, sun showers, passing trains – seem to roll in and out on cue.



I’m eating breakfast even if it means standing
in front of the sink and tearing at the grapefruit,
even if I’m leaning over to keep the juices
away from my chest and stomach and even if a spider
is hanging from my ear and a wild flea
is crawling down my leg. My window is wavy
and dirty. There is a wavy tree outside
with pitiful leaves in front of the rusty fence
and there is a patch a useless rhubarb, the leaves
bent over, the stalks too large and bitter for eating,
and there is some lettuce and spinach too old for picking
beside the rhubarb. This is the way the saints
ate, only they dug for thistles, the feel
of thorns in the throat it was a blessing, my pity
it knows no bounds. There is a thin tomato plant
inside a rolled-up piece of wire, the worms
are already there, the birds are bored. In time
I’ll stand beside the rolled-up fence with tears
of gratitude in my eyes. I’ll hold a puny
pinched tomato in my open hand,
I’ll hold it to my lips. Blessed art Thou,
King of tomatoes, King of grapefruit. The thistle
must have juices, there must be a trick. I hate
to say it but I’m thinking if there is a saint
in our time what will he be, and what will he eat?
I hated rhubarb, all that stringy sweetness-
a fake applesauce-I hated spinach,
always with egg and vinegar, I hated
oranges when they were quartered, that was the signal
for castor oil-aside from the peeled navel
I love the Florida cut in two. I bend
my head forward, my chin is in the air,
I hold my right hand off to the side, the pinkie
is waving; I am back again at the sink;
oh loneliness, I stand at the sink, my garden
is dry and blooming, I love my lettuce, I love
my cornflowers, the sun is doing it all,
the sun and a little dirt and a little water.
I lie on the ground out there, there is one yard
between the house and the tree; I am more calm there
looking back at this window, looking up
a little at the sky, a blue passageway
with smears of white-and gray-a bird crossing
from berm to berm, from ditch to ditch, another one,
a wild highway, a wild skyway, a flock
of little ones to make me feel gay, the fly
down the thruway, I move my eyes back and forth
to see them appear and disappear, I stretch
my neck, a kind of exercise. Ah sky,
my breakfast is over, my lunch is over, the wind
has stopped, it is the hour of deepest thought.
Now I brood, I grimace, how quickly the day goes,
how full it is of sunshine, and wind, how many
smells there are, how gorgeous is the distant
sound of dogs, and engines-Blessed art Thou,
Lord of the falling leaf, Lord of the rhubarb,
Lord of the roving cat, Lord of the cloud.
Blessed art Thou oh grapefruit King of the universe,
Blessed art Thou my sink, oh Blessed art Thou
Thou milkweed Queen of the sky, burster of seeds,
Who bringeth forth juice from the earth.