The Future of Nostalgia
Not your town but a town
by the sea, a little village, maybe, named
Clean or Bay Shore or
You’re a stranger there.
It’s raining it’s snowing it’s very hot.
You find it intolerable
though the people seem friendly.
A couple of clammers drink beer
in a flat-bottomed Sharpie.
The lineman for Suffolk Lighting
checks his tool box.
You’re eating a Happy Meal and yes, you’re happy,
that’s the point, isn’t it,
you’re a child,
a rank but comforting breeze
eases in off the bay,
the white belly of a dead blowfish bobs
sunward in the shallow end
where the short canal stops at the highway.
Morning, of course, is beautifully inhabited,
which is how it should be
3 kids in their mid-teens
race on stolen bicycles across the bridge,
a red tick settling into the groin or armpit or clutching
the hair of an eyebrow.
A street sign says: Stop.
A t-shirt says: Cui Bono.
like a big indigo berry
that began as an umbrel of poisonous white flowers—
is predictably dark.
The unemployed hunch over their shot-glasses and darts
cursing the rich while wanting to be them.
The shuffleboard’s long narrow planks
fleck with sawdust.
A painted umbrella waits
It’s like a gift card with sound.
The ping-ping-ping of the wind chimes
from the restaurant next door
each note as small and green and sour
as a strawberry that will swell and ripen
when spring ends
and the summer says ha.
And you’ve never liked that music before.
When I was ten, playing baseball for one of those leagues where the teams are
sponsored by banks and beer distributors
and the colors seem, repetitively, Celtic green, though not, I think, some sly,
symbolic invocation of ancestral pride
but simply a bright and pretty color—
our pitcher, Bobby, I will call him, southpaw, black, his fastball tailing away
from so much righthandedness, was good,
and we were in first place, at that time, ‘66, all that mattered,
pitcher and catcher bound, not just by effort or desire,
but linked in an orbit of speed and motion, a joy that moved, untroubled by
the world, naïve, immediate—
and one night I invited Bobby over to my house, my neat little segregated
neighborhood, with Jews and Catholics and depressed atheists you could identify
by the hazard of their uncut lawns, as though the landscape
were a kind of metaphysic—
and I recall the blend of excitement and unease I felt, a tension that went
almost unnoted, when he and his mother, who was somewhat large and old
and nearly gray,
pulled up in what must have been a car from the 40's, the lines of its hood
and fenders and roof all beautifully rounded—
and though I can't imagine now what it must have been like for him, just eleven
with all those white people standing at the door and smiling, my mother, my sister,
me, one thread-worn azalea on each side of the stoop, the front grass deep
in oak-tuft and maple, still bright from recent falling--
I think we were happy, glad to be there, shy, open, as boys are, or can be,
uncluttered, and we spent the night flipping baseball cards, matching
and mismatching sides, as called, the faces poised at the edge of action,
pitchers in mid-windup, batters peering out at us as though we hurried,
dangerously, spinning toward them,
the next day passing unmindful and content and curious, the world united
in its flush and blossom—
until a few weeks later someone complained to the league office, that Bobby,
it seemed, was born three days too late or early, and according to their
red Mars casting its martial shadow across the path of Venus, he was too old
to play in the minors,
so they moved him, forcibly, mid-season, by rule and fiat, to another team,
which is when I learned what laws were made to do to those who hadn’t made them,
and the world became, in a day, more dense and weighted, as though summer
had thickened into a shadow
no one could pass through.
After that, after the tears and objections, the vague tribunal of league officials,
we would go, almost the whole team at first, the Sadowskis and Kramers and
Engelhardts and Jones,
to watch Bobby play, first baseman now, as the coach's son was a pitcher,
but eventually everything just went away,
disappeared, it seemed, into the oncoming heat of summer, the season’s end,
the way things can, and do, sometimes for good,
though who can hardly tell for sure,
and for me it all became a kind of vague regret and choler in the climax
a scar on a part of the body you cannot see
unless you try to,
until years later, in High School, when we met again—
blacks, whites, Bobby, me, recognizable, glad,
parked in our cars by the Great South Bay,
playing Clapton and Hendrix and Herbie Hancock on our eight-tracks,
smoking dope and drinking, and listening to Ralph Rivera tell us all
about this book by a guy named Castaneda,
who we had not read,
and how he'd learned the arts, Ralph said, passing the joint to the person
beside him, of another world,
where a man might forget his body and rise, unfettered, into freedom and power,
on the character of his soul, the depth of his wisdom,
by the dark, shimmering, light-filled, knowing
body of the crow.
Losing the Self
It happens. Is happening. All the time.
Ask the young couple who’ve just returned from their honeymoon in
shaking their suitcases out above the white sheet they’ve spread
on the hardwood floor of their new townhome.
Or the widow, just after Church, Easter, 2004, who’s convinced it’s somewhere,
the place that only exists if you never find it,
her truck just sitting there, week after week, grazing the driveway, adjusting
One day you wake up, your bowl filled with Kashi or cranberries, wrinkled
as wet walnuts,
and sense it, roaming the maze of the body, seeking an outlet,
rushing to your feet when you stand up, to your head
when you bend down to handsweep
a broken decanter.
Suddenly you’re anyone.
One minute it’s that boy trapped in a perpetual loop reciting the poems of
another it’s the golden-haired botanist growing orchids in a swamp,
and yesterday you were that girl no one taught about measure.
It was sunny.
Just this morning, for instance, for about 3 hours, you were your neighbor,
20 lbs. overweight and balding, recently divorced,
dancing slowly, happily upon his porch, embracing the emptiness,
gazing coyly into her sunglasses,
whispering to God.
You recall it quite clearly.
Or someone does.
A small iridescent butterfly
clinging to the vine of the climbing jasmine,
which freshens the air,
a male grackle perched on an old antenna,
planted, like a winterized maple,
in the lawn.
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