Two Poems • Lee Stern


The things we prayed to were called gods.
And we could only pray to them in the afternoon,
because the rest of the time they were busy with their own stuff.
They had big attention spans, though,
so you could fill up the hour, say, between two and three,
and be confident that most of your concerns
would be able to get through to them.
And they didn’t pick and choose whom they would listen to.
One person’s chances were as good as the next.
The only thing they insisted on was a certain amount of privacy
and a certain sense of decorum
that most people were able to pick up most of the time,
if even after only a few half-hearted attempts.
And you notice that I haven’t said
that all of the gods were able to solve all of our problems.
My experience is that it was about one in ten.
Maybe, if you were lucky, twenty percent.
But they were there for our benefit
even if, as I was told repeatedly on a number of discrete occasions,
we were sublimely there for theirs.


The Road to Bakersfield

The road to Bakersfield starts here
next to this empty lot.
But I’ve made it very clear
that going to Bakersfield isn’t at the top of my agenda.
If I have to go in the direction of Bakersfield,
let me keep my eyes closed when I get close to it.
And open them only when I can be assured that it’s passed.
I don’t know why I have this feeling about Bakersfield.
Maybe it reminds of something that somebody once told me.
I only know that if I have to go there, I’m going to be unhappy.
And probably end up saying things that I’ll regret.
I’ll probably end up thinking that the people of Bakersfield
have nothing to say to me of any consequence.
But expect me to bring all of my obligations with me.
And arrange them not for themselves that they may look at them,
but within the hours that relegate the quantitative edge of my sight.


Lee Stern lives in Los Angeles and tries to write a poem a day.