The Generation Before

Robert Pinsky

The wind blew. Some days, rain
Falling the size of nickels
Splashed up over the curb.
There were hats for that, and for sun
Too, frying shoeleather in its hot cycles.
Flesh was a poor garb,

So poor, the people were quaint—
Muffled up into their high cars
Or their quaint bulky clothing.
In the prolonged slap-happy Lent
Of the times, harder than yours,
Eating or asleep, breathing,

They got by in their manner, at times
Made Carnival in hotel bars,
At ball games or the track. In photographs,
In films, even in their haberdashery, games
And swank gear (cases, lighters,
Syphons, clips, objects for looks or laughs

Of glass, pigskin, malachite)
They survive as a vague murmur of style,
The nostalgic false life of a face
Shining from a snapshot. Time will not
Light gently on those fathers. They will fall
Sick in the lungs and the heart, hapless

In a motel, swearing at their own lost
Flickery past, craving a field
Empty and large, the growth pale and recent
Over the plow-twisting tangle of the past—
The grasses coarse, unculled,
The impossible field of the present.

Robert Pinsky is the author of Jersey Breaks: Becoming an American Poet, an autobiography forthcoming in October.
Originally published:
December 1, 1974


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