Saturday, March 31, 2018

Nostalgia (March 30, 2018)

By Billy Collins

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.


Never anymore in a wash of sweetness and awe  
does the summer when I was seventeen come back  
to mind against my will, like a bird crossing  

my vision. Summer of moist nights full of girls  
and boys ripened, holy drunkenness and violation  
of the comic boundaries, defiances that never  

failed or brought disaster. Days on the backs  
and in the breath of horses, between rivers  
and pools that reflected the cicadas' whine,  

enervation and strength creeping in smooth waves  
over muscular water. All those things accepted,  
once, with unnoticing hunger, as an infant  

accepts the nipple, never come back to mind  
against the will. What comes unsummoned now,  
blotting out every other thought and image,  

is a part of the past not so deep or far away:  
the time of poverty, of struggle to find means  
not hateful—the muddy seedtime of early manhood.  

What returns are those moments in the diner  
night after night with each night's one cup of coffee,  
watching an old man, who always at the same hour  

came in and smiled, ordered his tea and opened  
his drawing pad. What did he fill it with?  
And where's he gone? Those days, that studious worker,  

hand moving and eyes eager in the sour light,  
that artist always in the same worn-out suit,  
are my nostalgia now. That old man comes back,  

the friend I saw each day and never spoke to,  
because I hoped soon to disappear from there,  
as I have disappeared, into the heaven of better days.

Beginning With an Acute Stab of Nostalgia, It Gets Worse and Worse

I called Hart on my longer distance line
And in case you didn’t know he is in heavine.
Hart, I implored, I searched your book
(Yes, you have a Collected) and could fine
Nothing about the 36 cast iron bridges in
Central Park, why didn’t you write about one
At least. He said he wrote about the narrow Bow Bridge
For peds built in 1878 which is sad and fine
And always photographed through branches in the foregrine
Which was sufficiently sad to make him weep all the tine
He was trying to write the poem so he threw it away.
He tried again and he uncontrollably wept agine.
Did you try a third tine,
I asked. No, he said, and here’s why:
Life is uncontrollably sad all the time
Unless we divert ourselves with art objects,
Sex, or tequila or beer, and if we tell the truth
About this, for instance when we feel it
While looking at a photograph of the cast ine
Bow Bridge or see in life not photos but the real bridge at a short destine
Away with the actual park and branches around us,
We feel like killing ourselves to stop the pain
Or as you, Arthur, call it, the pine,
So I didn’t try a third time
To write the poem. Get off this line,
He said. Wait! Don’t hang up, he said, I take it back, stay on the phine!

Well, I considered calling on my second longer distance line
Kenneth who in heavine has changed his name to Kenneth Kine
And Barbara who I did call on my second longer distance line
With Hart on hold and affirmed her name change to Barbara Gine
But I didn’t ask those younger two about uncontrollable totally dominant sadness
Or whether they had discarded their own poems about the 36 cast ine
Bridges for people to walk on in Central Park
Because they were weeping on the paper and pine
Ing for Hart’s Big Deep Salty Lake to ease the pine.
I didn’t call Frank because I never knew hine I mean him.
I figured the next step was mine.
So if you can believe it I hung up on Hart Crine.

Nostalgia (The Lake at Night)

By Lloyd Schwartz

The black water.

Lights dotting the entire perimeter.

Their shaky reflections.

The dark tree line.

The plap-plapping of water around the pier.

Creaking boats.

The creaking pier.

Voices in conversation, in discussion—two men, adults—serious inflections
(the words themselves just out of reach).

A rusty screen-door spring, then the door swinging shut.

Footsteps on a porch, the scrape of a wooden chair.

Footsteps shuffling through sand, animated youthful voices (how many?)— distinct, disappearing.

A sudden guffaw; some giggles; a woman’s—no, a young girl’s—sarcastic reply; someone’s assertion; a high-pitched male cackle.

Somewhere else a child laughing.


Tires whirring along a pavement... not stopping ... receding.

Shadows from passing headlights.

A cat’s eyes caught in a headlight.

No moon.

Connect-the-dot constellations filling the black sky—the ladle of the Big Dipper not quite directly overhead.

The radio tower across the lake, signaling.

Muffled quacking near the shore; a frog belching; crickets, cicadas, katydids, etc.—their relentless sexual messages.

A sudden gust of wind.

Branches brushing against each other—pine, beech.

A fiberglass hull tapping against the dock.

A sudden chill.

The smell of smoke, woodstove fires.

A light going out.

A dog barking; then more barking from another part of the lake.

A burst of quiet laughter.

Someone in the distance calling someone too loud.

Steps on a creaking porch.

A screen-door spring, the door banging shut.

Another light going out (you must have just undressed for bed).

My bare feet on the splintery pier turning away from the water.

Lloyd Schwartz, "Nostalgia (The Lake at Night)" from Cairo Traffic. Copyright © 2000 by Lloyd Schwartz.  Reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.

Do You Remember
By Alice Wagner

Do you remember
Honey Combs and Lucky Charms,
a prize in every box, 
Silly putty and Slinkys,
Sweet Tarts and Pixie Sticks,
your tongue colored blue
The taste so sour, your jaw ached.

The first time you spoke into a portable tape recorder,
Sitting at the black and white
With Swanson TV dinners on a Saturday night
And it’s your turn to change the channel.

Father knew best and Donna Reed kept house
Major Nelson kept a woman in a bottle
And Betty Friedan set your mothers free 
George Wallace proclaimed segregation
And Selma answered
JFK, RFK, and MLK took a stand
And left us, interrupting our Saturday cartoons,
while a nation fought for change.

Do you remember
Hip huggers and halter tops;
Minis, Maxis, Midis;
The girls with their Farrah Fawcett hair;
And that boy with the shag and the cut-off tee,
The one that made you laugh for no reason at all;

Bringing home new albums,
The zip and crinkle of your thumb splitting the wrapper;
The pop and hiss of the needle, 
While Barry Manilow, The Eagles, and Zeplin
sang of love and chaos.

Phyllis Schlafley toured the country telling women 
to stay home and raise children, 
Roe v. Wade gave women a choice, 
and Vogue gave Beverly Johnson the cover.

Billy Jean King beat Bobby Riggs,
Nixon fell to Watergate,
Three Mile Island leaked and Disco Fever raged
While a generation attempted to find themselves.

Do you remember
Curling irons, final net and black eye liner,
Hall and Oates, Prince and Pat Benetar
playing on your Walkman radio,
Big Hair and padded shoulders
Multi-piercings, leggings and Punk Rock,
Rocky Horror Picture Show, Boy George,
and “The Facts of Life”.

Your first computer, half the size of your desk, 
Brunch and Yuppies and Bedtime for Bonzo goes to Washington,
A thousand points of lights hovered over Desert Storm, 
While lost souls were sent to the street,
Twenty somethings earning six figured salaries,
While someone else waited for things to trickle down,
And so many friends left us too soon.

Do you remember
When life accelerated… while we watched?

The World Wide Web expanded and the ozone dissolved. 
America went online and we all stayed home.
The economy boomed, and the workforce downsized.

S&Ls lost homes and lives and people invested in Beanie babies, 
While the country fixated on Monica’s Dress 
and pondered the meaning of “is”.

And Grunge,
Pants too low and jeans torn for $ 100 a pair,
Raves and Ecstasy and Alice goes down the K-hole,
While Soccer Moms in Connecticut drove SUVs,
Inner city youth were killed for sneakers, and LA imploded.
Tupac is murdered, Kurt Cobain kills himself

OJ is acquitted and MC Hammer can’t touch this. 

And a nation’s conscience was hijacked.

Do you remember Reality? 
Big Brother, Fear Factor, Survivor
and the REAL housewives of Orange County
E-chat, Speed Dating, and auto tune 
American Idol, America’s Next Top Model, America’s got talent, 
All seeking fame and fortune while we watched
From the TV in the Car, on cell phones, crossing the street,
Waiting for a microwave pizza,
…To escape reality.

Now memory comes in 
Megs and gigs and drives 
With thoughts of clouds stored in clouds
Cars that drive themselves 
Friends that you will never meet
And places you go without a single step
e-trade, e-news, e-love 
Truth rebooted in a millisecond,
And History is hacked online
The media creates a super-star
And democracy is Trumped.

And here we sit, 
Holding time like a two minute egg
Unwrapping the news, 
reported in black and white,
staining your fingertips and leaving its mark
smudged across my cheek,
the taste of the bitter coffee,
punctuating the morning
and defining as much of the future as we can handle, 
the grounds still waiting in the kitchen sink,
Remembering when we could imagine

a world without ISIS, and BREXIT 
when Rosa took her seat
so generations could take their place,
when everything hit the Stonewall
so that one day all love could be equal,
celebrating the feminine mystique,
and believing in the Audacity of Hope.
And it’s our turn to change the channel.

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