Like children of the Holocaust, those whose parents suffered from pogroms or who were forced from their homeland because of religious persecution carry the scars forever. The cost of such escape never seems to leave Bert Stern, one example of an adult son who knows, as he states so directly in “Lotty is Born,” “…let them tell me if they can/if I am recompense for what they endured.” The remaining five parts of this notable collection might be described as an appreciation for the beauty and fragility of life thereafter. In the title poem, Stern notes the full effect of such survival, “…he said what he hoped,/as if God gave us life/as we want it. But order is like houses children weave from grasses, twigs/and leaves.” Nature as it appears in upstate Buffalo, New York is a repeated mirror image of deep beauty and death, with the latter being existentially, not morbidly, depicted. One other outstanding poem is “Midrash: Abraham” in which after his son remains after the great sacrifice “…broken there, complete and alone,/bent by perfection.” Steerage is a celebration of new life forever renewed by the past.
Deborah Schoeneman, is a former English teacher/Writing Across the Curriculum Center Coordinator at North Shore Hebrew Academy High School and coeditor of Modern American Literature: A Library of Literary Criticism, Vol. VI, published in 1997.