For Gerald Stern
You old poet remembering birthday number ninety
and cigars that cost a nickel and came with gold bands
but no guilt and cars with bench seats do you remember
when nights were not made of trees and snow and mirrors
of stars crashed across the sky but made of coke
and coal and the blast of flames and men tending
the ovens standing prepared to tilt the cauldrons
and pour forth the stew and wasted steel to save
the city and villages pulling at its edges and
old poet why did no night cool and cake inside the pot?
John Riley has published poetry and fiction in Smokelong Quarterly, Better Than Starbucks, Banyan Review, Connotation Press, Fiction Daily, The Molotov Cocktail, Dead Mule, St. Anne’s Review, and numerous other anthologies and journals both online and in print. He has also written over thirty books of nonfiction for young readers and continues his work in educational publishing.