Gerald Stern

Places You Wouldn’t Believe

I liked this hotel best because the swimming pool
was on the roof and I was closer by an inch
to the sun that way and there were birds thereby
that fit into the landscape more and flew at
right angles to my elevated body
as I crawled up and down the cement lanes
guided vaguely by the wavering tar; and
I liked the fact that there was a national newspaper
every morning at my door and the rugs were
hideous, and that was that, and they were
poorly laid to boot, and I even tripped
and spilled my coffee following the wrong
red arrow once, but I have had an hour
of mercy at the makeshift desk or in the
lobby, such as it was, and I have had mercy
in places you wouldn’t believe, so much that I
am ruthless about it; I started with an orange crate
in my living room, and that was that; I know it was
lit up by a brazen dancer with the torches
growing from her belly, my first mercy.

Gerald Stern
“Places You Wouldn’t Believe” is from American Sonnets (W. W. Norton, 2002).