Thursday, January 6, 2011

Artifacts from the Deep Freeze of the Cold War

We're always warned of what will happen when our friends start posting pictures from our wayward, misspent youth. Here's a picture that a college friend recently posted of me, which must have been taken around 1985 or so. I'm the one with the braided hair. The woman on the left is my very most favorite undergraduate English teacher, Dr. Swanson. Note the bumpersticker on the wall which says, "Support Your Local Rhetorician." Who would have dreamed how many years I would spend doing just that?

My first thought: was I ever really that thin? And then, how young!

I thought of those years again this week, when my dad wrote to tell me that his Barbershop group appears on Russian television--not because they travelled to Russia, but because they were performing in Alexandria's Market Square when a Russian film crew saw them. More filming ensued, and now my dad, the retired Air Force colonel, invades the Russian air waves. His e-mail which told of this adventure made me think back to those undergraduate years of the mid 1980's, the deep freeze of the cold war years, when my dad and I argued about the U.S.S.R.

It may not surprise you when I tell you that my youthful rebellion was to read Marx. My father said, "You've never read The Communist Manifesto! You don't know what you're talking about!"

So, I marched right over to B. Dalton Booksellers (ah, another artifact of days gone by!) and bought my very own copy--which I proceeded to read in public, on the D.C. Metro, during the height of Ronald Reagan's regime.

Years later, I wrote this poem, which first appeared in The Julia Mango and will also be included in my forthcoming chapbook, I Stand Here Shredding Documents:

Morning in America: 1984

I read The Communist Manifesto on the DC Metro,
surrounded by commuters going to their downtown jobs
and tourists in town to see their government in action.

I wear sensible shoes and my hair in a braid.
I work in a tough part of town, that summer
that DC has the nation’s highest murder rate.

That season is also the one when the social
service agency runs out of resources. My summer job:
to answer the phone, to tell the downtrodden there is no money.

Between calls, I return to Marx. I picture
him, prowling the streets of Europe, winding up in the British
Museum, where he could write and stay warm.

I write my own poems. I imagine they will change
the world, that all I must do to rid the planet of injustice
is to point out the inequities, nothing to lose but our chains.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Wow to the sweet photo and the marvelous idealism!