Stern, who currently lives in New Jersey, has numerous honors and awards to his credit, among them the Ruth Lily Poetry Prize and the National Book Award for Poetry in 1998. In these poems, even more than in his earlier ones, Stern stresses the theme of light in apposition—and opposition—to darkness. `The light of the sun . . . creates darkness, a way of saying that life brings death.` He points out how this theme is recurrent in religion and literature, forming an inexhaustible source for both impulses, as well as serving as a metaphor for the forces at work in the natural world. `With me,` he states, `it is overwhelming, personal`—and indeed it proves so in this rich and satisfying collection of his latest poems. Stern draws heavily from a store of memories that are intensely personal, but his imagery is in the vernacular. A good deal of it (strangely for an essentially urban poet) is horticultural, but most definitely not in any flowery sense. He describes how his fractious neighbor, propped on his good leg and his cane, stoops to smell his roses and indicates that `where he threw his wine glass down a bleeding heart is starting to show under the motherly leaves.`
Stern's predilection for the chiaroscuro interplay of light and dark leads to a wonderfully varied work that is autobiographical in its details and metaphysical in its scope.