I was born too late to be a hippie and I grew up in the rural north, not exactly the site of mass protests and marches in the streets (we had hardly any streets). But I remember being a little girl and sitting in the high school cafeteria before elementary school started (my mother was a high school teacher and we sometimes rode to town with her to avoid the school bus horror show) observing the gigantic and intimidating high schoolers and wondering what the black armbands on some of their arms meant. It isn’t easy to give up hope, to escape a dream, says Dorianne Laux in this haunting poem. Nor should it be.
Listening to Paul Simon
– Dorianne Laux
Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can’t summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we would pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his cindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and blinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn’t easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us
in the dark, so that sleeping and waking
we heard the train’s distant whistle,
steel trestles shivering
across the land that was still ours
in our bones and hearts, its lone headlamp
searching the weedy stockyards,
the damp, gray rags of fog.