“Determing Who the Marchers Were” by Lee Stern

Lee Stern


It was my job to determine who the marchers were.
And how long they had practiced the different steps they were used to making.
I wouldn’t say that it was a hard job.
Only that when I grew tired of doing it,
nobody else volunteered to take my place.
As it was, the marchers recognized me even from a great distance
and applauded when they realized
that I was counting the people in each one of their lines.
It had been years since anyone had done this as rigorously as I had.
And their confidence in my counting them
left me at the same time actually content and fairly amazed.
I remember one line of ten men, when I said later that there were eleven of them,
smiled, and thought that it was a joke.
But, of course, it wasn’t a joke.
And the eleventh man, who claimed that he resembled me
even down to the color of my hair, when he put his tunic down,
lapsed into the kind of a coma I recognized
fitfully from months of pouring grease over my head
and years of placing birds in the sky.

from Rattle #31, Summer 2009


Lee Stern: “For years I have had the same nightmare, that I am standing in a line of people who have just been instructed to march off a cliff. So I wrote this poem, thinking the nightmare would go away. But it didn’t. In fact, the laugh track that carried it along got a little bit louder. And in the accompanying music, I found, the part for the bassoon was taken over by a drunken band of clarinets.”

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