My Father, the Poet

My father, Herbert Stein, was a famous and brilliant economist. But he was in his heart deeply interested in poetry. In going through some files I recently rediscovered these poems, which my father had given me long ago. He wrote them when he was about 20 years old and was working part-time on a New Deal statistics project in Chicago. The “Viner” and “Knight” he refers to in the sixth poem below were extremely highly regarded economics professors at the University of Chicago in its glory days. I believe he wrote these during the 1936 presidential campaign. I think readers might find them of interest.

Seven Poems by Herbert Stein:

LINES TO A LOVELY KEY-PUNCHER
or
BREAKDOWN OF A DEFENSE MECHANISM

Your gum you masticate,
Gazing in air;
A cobra you’d fascinate
With your empty stare.

You’ve hair like a witch
Who flies through the wind;
You’ve a figure for which
No man ever sinned.

You don’t take pains
In applying lip-rouge;
You haven’t the brains
Of a Ted Healy stooge.

If you said, “Come closer,
I want to be kissed,”
I’d answer, “No sir!
I’m no masochist.”

There’s no use denying,
I’ll be more specific —
Up to now I’ve been lying,
I think you’re terrific.

*****

WHY I CANNOT WRITE YOU A LOVE POEM

A love poem should be a thing of tenderness,
Gently moulded of soft words into a figure of adoration.
But my words are hard and unyielding,
Tempered into sharp and bitter edges
By too much use in the easy cynicism of unearned sophistication.
Pressed by the fumbling hands of a new-found romantic self,
They twist and lash into unmeant mockeries.
So must my love beat mutely in my throat.

*****

BROOKLYNESE BOMBAST

A guy who woiks for Standard Erl
Has stolen away my best goil.
It makes the blood within me berl
To see her going with that choil.

I’ll buy myself a nice sharp ferl,
and with a twist and a twoil
That guy who woiks for Standard Erl
Will be despatched to the lower Woil’.

*****

IT MAY BE EXHIBITIONISM BUT I LOVE IT

The way you sway when you walk,
The way you grimace when you talk,
The way you fix your face
In any public place,
The way you pull your stocking, —
Are all positively shocking,
But so nice, so very nice!

*****

APOLOGIA OF A ROMANTIC NATIONALIST

One thing to you I must confess;
I cannot shed an honest tear.
Though you love me not more but less,
I cannot weep into my beer.

When the Keats within me sighs,
“Mourn, for she loves another,”
My Dorothy Parker always replies,
“She’s makin’ a sap of you brother.”

*****

DECLINE AND FALL

I was always a cold intellectual,
For whom female charms were ineffectual.
I never went goofy or ga-ga
For a girl from Wellesley or Vassar.
I read my Adler and Freud
So I knew just what to avoid.

Now a dizzy gum-chewing girl
Has got my head in a whirl.
I’d give all my unwritten books
For just one of her inviting looks.
I don’t want to be Knight or Viner —
Just to be with her is much finer.

*****

PROPAGANDA POEM
With Apologies to John Keats

When I have fears that the project may close,
Before I’ve taken Dorothy out to dine,
Before Amelia with the button nose,
Has shared with me my cake and wine,
When I behold in Vera’s deep dark eyes
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never realize
Their meaning at some summer moonlight dance,
And when I feel, fair Jeanie of the West,
That I may never look upon thee more,
Never go swimming with Bernice and Alice and the rest,
Upon Lake Michigan’s mighty shore,
Then all alone and quite dejected, —
I pray for Roosevelt to be re-elected.

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Author: Ben Stein

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