Liz’s Weekend Poetry Series: Nostalgia?

by lizard

When I talk about the age of mistrust, I don’t mean to imply that we are progressing from some nostalgically utopian age of trust, like this comment from that post seems to insinuate:

Yeah, if we could only go back to those more trusting days .

When they were loading boxcars to Auschwitz and Siberia.

The pure evil most humans shudder to recall—the systemic Nazi extermination of Jews (and gypsies and gays, too)—now solidly justifies America’s involvement in WWII. We were the good guys saving Europe from fascism.

We are no longer the good guys, not when a simultaneous war for the hearts and minds has to be waged to sustain the tentacles of US imperialism.

Oh yeah, and we’re losing that war as well.

The poetry part of this week’s LWPS takes a peek at nostalgia. The two poems I’ve selected come from a Pulitzer prize winning collection of poems by poet Stephen Dunn, titled Different Hours, published in 2000. Enjoy.

*

SIMPLER TIMES

The violent boys merely armed
with fists, the president
avuncular, his office unspoiled,

it’s tempting to believe
we lived in simpler times.

Unfulfillment didn’t have
its high priests, not even a language.
I just thought of it as family life

or school, and on Sunday nights
ran in from the clean, safe streets
to laugh at Milton Berle.

I wanted to be a regular guy,
she a popular girl.
That night she baby-sat, oh

a breast never again would be
that sufficient or that bare.
I stopped right there.

Nearby were the slums
just beyond our caring,
and nearer still—it took years

to hear it—a complaint
rising to a howl.
In Hungary the tanks

rolled in. In Zaire
Mobutu filled the secret,
underground jails.

*

THE PARTY

After I buried the century’s putrid corpse
and resolved to rid the world
of utopias and the fat
which had collected around my waist,

I kissed the lovely one I was with
and a few others I might as easily have slugged.
How festive it was at the mausoleum!
Even I wanted to dance the tarantella

until dawn, make love shamelessly in the open.
A few enemies extended their hands
and when the famous sentimentalist spoke
about his inner weather my heart sank so low

I poured myself a large, neat glass of Glenfiddich.
“Houston,” I said, “Tranquility Base here,
the Eagle has landed.” And my best friend laughed.
Meanwhile, the century had begun to stir

in its coffin; several of us sensed it.
Maybe it was the best parts of it
twitching to be remembered? Maybe Churechill
and Kafka and a handful of edgy others

were appalled by the stench so near them?
But by this time all of us were used
to injustice. We partied on
into the tabula rasa of the new century

as if somehow we could erase our pasts
by just moving forward,
as if, come morning, we wouldn’t wake
with the bitterest of nostalgias.

—Stephen Dunn


  1. 1 An April Feast Of Poetry « 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Nostalgia? […]

  2. 2 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Nostalgia? […]

  3. 3 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Landscape At The End Of The Century | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] week’s poem comes from Stephen Dunn, a poet I’ve featured before. I picked up his book of poems titled Landscape at the End of the Century (W. W. Norton, 1991) […]

  4. 4 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Nostalgia? […]




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