You have to be a city to feel
the insistence of years on your spine,
your biceps, your thighs. Bittersweet, dreamy.
You have to be an empty lot, an uninhabited
home, to understand nostalgia. Voices of children
long dead, unlit rooms behind tattered curtains,
forgotten fragrance of French toast on spring mornings,
a rolled-up newspaper thudding on the porch,
Dagwood Bumstead sharing an old joke
with Blondie on Page 5.
You have to be a store in some side street
a pawnbroker or a bookmaker shuffling index cards
numerals and letters recorded by ink-stained fingers
to add up the years in your memory.
You have to be a music hall, run down and disused
doors falling off their hinges, to hear songs from
last century’s operettas, pews empty now of petticoats
and corduroy, laughter and loneliness combining
in the odors of beer and cologne, couples holding
hands in the gloom of a bygone era.
You have to be a 78rpm record, red labeled, to waltz
with Victor Sylvester, thrill at Enrico Caruso, still there,
sweet and strong behind the scratches, singing vesti la giubba
as the now threadbare brocade of an opera theater
in a far-away city sweeps open.
Five dollars in your pocket yet still full of hope – a city
abandoned in time, dreaming of yesterday.
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© Johnmichael Simon