Inside My Nostalgia Box

SeventeenLook at my new Easter eggs.
Red and blue with yellow legs.
See them run around and around.
Then they tumble on the ground

I’ve just discovered this intriguingly surrealist verse in a box in my attic labeled “Nostalgia.” The box has been sitting there for decades, and I got curious recently about what might be in it. Judging from the large, carefully printed lettering of this poem, I’d guess it’s from first grade, before I’d learned cursive.

Examples of my literary juvenilia abound in this box. I’ll spare you most of them. But one poem from my high-school literary magazine, Inkling, stands out for me. Called “Waiting,” it begins:

On a battered bench in a city park
Sits a man—old, tired, and weak;
On his aged skin there is many a mark—
A scar on his neck. A cut on his cheek

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Christians in the Age of Sincerity

Guest Post

By Dyana Herron

Image has just published its 25th anniversary issue (#80). We’re pleased today to run an excerpt from a symposium in that issue entitled “The Road Ahead: Voices for the Next Twenty-Five Years,” consisting of reflections by a group of writers under the age of 35.

Although I don’t consider myself to have a finger on the pulse of culture (I’m not a journalist or a critic or an academic, but someone who writes mostly from a limited personal perspective), I do agree that the contemporary public square seems a safer place to be a Christian artist or intellectual than it has in even the recent past.

This is a strange position for Christians to find ourselves in, because we are much more accustomed to persecution than popularity. I can imagine, though, that if Jesus, with his wavy hair and mellow but antiauthoritarian attitude, chose to appear as a young man in America today, he might just as likely be crowned prom king as King of the Jews. And then where would humanity be?

Christians have never been particularly cool, no matter how hard DC Talk or our youth pastors tried to convince us otherwise. That’s partly because our parents never allowed us to go to the good parties. But more because, historically, coolness is about detachment, distance, and self-assurance, whereas Christianity is about commitment, presence, and self-surrender.

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Poetry at the Goodwill

When I was a soccer-obsessed fifteen-year-old, I had no use for poetry. I endured my school hours like a crated dog, waiting to get out on the field. One afternoon in the library, I picked up a random book of English verse and flipped through it. Eventually I landed on a song from Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, offered most often now with the title “Old and Young.” The first stanza goes like this:

When all the world is young, lad,
And all the trees are green;
And every goose a swan, lad
And every lass a queen;
Then hey for boot and horse, lad,
And round the world away
Young blood must have its course, lad,
And every dog his day.

He was speaking to me, young blood, strong, moving among so many queenly lasses in my school that I could not think straight for more than a few moments at a time. Back then, I didn’t know what a sentimental piece of writing it is; I don’t care now.

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Nothing Can Stay, Gold or Not

My wife Liz and I met in a bar.

For Liz it was in defiance of her father’s admonition, “Whatever you do, don’t meet a Melungeon in a bar.” While technically she did meet a Melungeon in a bar, it wasn’t quite like that; we were both at a going-away party for a mutual friend, a poet who had taken a teaching job on the other side of the United States, in San Francisco.

Last Friday night Liz and I visited that bar for the last time. When the doors closed in the dark of Saturday morning, Bull Branch was gone. The owner Scott had closed it down the way she does everything—full throttle all the way. She swung open the doors and threw a smash-up party. Don DiLego, backed by a fantastic band, gave us a good dose of his soulful Americana. Everyone danced, and drank, and reveled in the company of old friends.

Open in 2001, Bull Branch was a restaurant and a bar, but it was more than that. It was a place to meet people interested in more than hookups and college football; it was a place to talk about art and literature and music; it was a place to hear music that ranged in the course of an hour from Willie Nelson to Morphine to Fela Kuti. If you wanted to dance, you did it between the tables. And that was fine. People did it all the time.

It feels like our town has lost another bubble of sanity, a local sanctuary from the bland corporate-store kitsch that appears to be spreading like gangrene across the city. Another place with personality goes, another Cracker Barrel or Buffalo Wild Wings—or two, or four—opens.

Friday was great fun. Saturday was sad, as if another friend had moved far away. Funny how a place has its own personality and can come to feel like a friend. Bull Branch was like that to me—a friend I hadn’t seen as much lately because I had three kids to usher through the teen years, but an old friend nonetheless.

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Sorting Through the Past

I’ve been cleaning out an attic—not my own—along with drawers, closets, shelves, storehouses, and barns —also, not my own, or at least not primarily. I don’t live here anymore, though I’ve always called this place home.

I’m doing these things in preparation for the sale of a farm that has been lived in continuously, and happily, for forty years. During that time, the house accumulated the contents of others’ houses, boxed up and moved in when the people who owned them grew sick and old and eventually died. Life was too busy to sort through all of it, so generation piled upon generation, like the Iron Age after the Bronze.

In the heat of a Southern summer, in the eaves of the old house, dimly lit and with little ventilation, old cardboard boxes must be gone through. They crumble and split at the touch, disintegrating like frail pastilles. The close air is heavy with the scent of insulation, musty paper, aged cloth, bitter red coins, and for some reason, the contents of ladies’ purses that I remember from my youth—the patent leather kind with hard metal clasps: Kleenex, face powder, rouge, lipstick, and mints. [Read more…]