Friday, April 1, 2011

Combatwords, April 1, 2011: Nostalgia

Combatwords, April 1, 2011: Nostalgia

I read somewhere that nostalgia is a weapon. Maybe I inferred that. Does it matter? Think about it: a whimsical craving for the past poisons one's present and makes one vulnerable to appeals to 'return to the past.' Politics is only one angle—art does the same thing. Perhaps they intersect, as Kundera suggested, in the form of kitsch? And if nostalgia is the past and kitsch is the present, then what is the future but fantasy? A realm that never connects to our present—a floating point that is always somewhere beyond the not-quite-obtainable near-future. So even if nobody said nostalgia is a weapon, that's one of my takes on it. You probably have a different one.

Free-for-all rules apply for this combat, which means if you don't like the main topic, go and riff off another combatant's composition.

Combat Expiration: 12am PST, 4/4/2011

Critique Expiration: 12am PST, 4/6/2011, with a rolling grace period of 24 hours to allow for critique rebuttals. Addendum: Based off the LAST critique in the thread.

Bonuses/Penalties: +2 if posted by 6pm PST, 4/1/2011, +1 if posted by 2am PST 4/2/2011, -1 if posted by 6am PST 4/4/2011, -2 if posted by 12pm PST 4/4/2011.

The Rules:

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  1. My first car, my first love, the first time I jammed with other musicians, my first real job, my first day at city college, my first day at la sorbonne, my first decent paycheck, the first night of my first apartment in france (i dreamed the relief on the ceiling was a weapon and came down and burned me on my armpit) ... my first trip to big sur, my first drive up the coast, my first night boat from england to france, my first bike ride from paris to barcelona ... my first ferry from brindisi to corfu, my first visit to the oracle at delphi, the first night of my first apartment in the u.s. (in a sleeping bag on the floor, i couldn't get furniture delivered until the weekend ... my first rock concert (led zeppelin at the forum) ... my first trip to philadelphia, my first trip to new york, when i saw guernica at moma, my first flight to london ... i always thought i could do it again and it would be even better ... sometimes i did it again and it was, sometimes i did it again and it wasn't, but usually i couldn't and i'll never know whether it would've been or wouldn't have been ... that was when i was young ... now that i'm older, i know: i'm probably not going to do this again, so i'd better enjoy it while it's here in front of me.

  2. Nostalgia

    "In Cuba, it wasn't like this"
    was the common joke
    when something bad happened
    in America.

    Simple things: steak burned to rubber,
    glass broken, cheap television
    on the fritz, sky cloudy with a chance
    of thunderstorms.

    Or bigger: pan of hot oil exploded
    and destroyed kitchen, job lost,
    car hit by some illegal with no insurance,
    baby caught pneumonia.

    Mostly it was politics:
    who was ruining the country, how,
    what idiots put these idiots in charge,
    it's worse every year.

    In Cuba, boys were drafted at 15
    to fight in Castro's glorious revolution.
    Food was rationed, people waited
    in hours-long lines for a loaf of bread.

    In Cuba, neighbors spied
    and reported each other to the police.
    Ordinary people were dragged off to jail,
    tortured, executed.

    Mostly it was a joke, because
    everyone left Cuba for a reason
    with one suitcase per person,
    everything else confiscated.

    Mostly it was a joke, but
    people still dreamed of going back,
    even knowing there was nothing
    to go back to.

  3. The Hammock.

    "Faster!" "Harder!" "More!"

    My cousins and I gripped the sturdy fabric with both hands, squealing with delight and laughter. Three of us in the hammock, two of us pushing.

    "Higher!" my cousin called.

    The birch tree swayed with the rhythm, calluses in the trunk where the hammock was tied and the bark had begun growing around it. It was young and strong, indestructible like we were.

    "The hammock is not a swing!" my uncle shouted from the porch.

    We ignored him. As long as he was still sitting at the table, we weren't swinging fast, hard, or high enough. The hammock jumped when we reached the top of the arc and we all screamed.

    "Keep pushing!"

    My cousins and I jockeyed for the center seat, crawling over one another, climbing, twisting. The hammock twisted and one of them was hanging upside down on the outside, clinging like a monkey. We helped him back in, pulling him up like a sailors dragging a drowned man from the sea.

    "Be careful!" my aunt called. "Don't rough house!"

    The hammock jumped and we all laughed, braced for it this time.

    "It's our turn!" our cousins said, the ones pushing us until we soared. From the top of the swing we could see over the trees as far as Albany, the mountains hovering behind.

    "Just one more push!" my cousin said. The one who had nearly fallen.

    She pushed, and we leaned forward. The hammock leapt, our stomachs dropping.


    The rope on the birch tree gave and we landed hard on the ground with a shared cry of pain and dismay.

    "Pop!" One of my cousins went running, before we had even shaken off the shock. "Pop! The hammock!"

    "Is everyone all right?" my aunt asked.

    But we were already climbing out of the wilted fabric. My tailbone felt bruised, but I didn't dare even whisper it. If any of us got hurt, they'd never let us forget it. The hammock would be banned, and we'd be stuck playing catch and losing Frisbees in the leech field below the house. We'd already tried and failed to fly the kite three times, and we'd been forbidden from having another water fight. The hammock had been our last game that didn't require shoes.

    "Are you hurt?" my aunt called again, and we could see her silhouette behind the screen, standing and holding her hand up against the glare of the sun.

    "No!" we shouted.

    The screen door slapped against the frame and my uncle appeared, fresh ropes in hand. We held our breath as he looked over the damage, hoping against hope it was just the ropes. Don't let it be the hammock. Don't let it be the hammock!

    He loosened the ropes from the trunk of the birch tree and looped new ones in their place.

    "No more swinging," he said, as he drew the ropes taut and the hammock rose back to life.

    The two girls who had been pushing us were already climbing in, and my uncle tightened the ropes so the hammock rose another few inches above the ground, then knotted it. He glanced at the three of us, and we stopped rubbing our bruised arms and bottoms. "If I see you swinging again, I'll take it down. Do you understand?"

    "Yes," we mumbled, not meeting his eyes. The girls in the hammock glared at us.

    We waited until he had gone back inside, hands behind our backs. The girls reached down, grabbing clumps of grass to pull the hammock back and forth in a gentle swaying motion.

    "Push us faster!" my cousin whispered. "Harder!" the other said. "More!"

  4. Picture Drawer

    There are times,
    when I walk through
    the broken glass
    of you, me, here and now,
    that I think back
    to the before.

    To that long haired
    Mexican girl
    and the nights
    we spent entangled;
    untangling our need
    and desire.

    Of course I know
    I fought with her too
    but those battlefields
    are green and over grown;
    Appomattox, Utah beach,
    Hue City.

    I will love you
    in the morning
    and we will clean up
    the mess we have made.

    We will share a cup of coffee
    and I will smile at you
    through the tiny particles
    that glow in the sun streams.

    But for now
    my mind needs to flip
    through old photographs
    and wonder about things
    that never really existed.

  5. Egyptian Patchouli

    In all the years since the weekend you
    “didn’t sleep with” that fellow
    you met at GothFest at the Trocadero
    I’ve only smelled it once: in the empty lavatory
    of a taco joint 3000 miles away from Philadelphia.
    I recognized it instantly, that faint trace of vanilla
    setting it apart from the more common varietal
    used to camouflage the stench of marijuana.
    I instantly flashed unintentionally
    on the image of your vagina,
    how smooth and shaved you kept it, perfumed and pink.
    I reeled with aprhodisia by the sink.
    Since then, the memory of your fragrance
    briefly whiffed that day is more intense
    than my vague memories of you in bed.
    We didn’t even like each other much, but still it throbs.
    I hate it when pain proves to be so useless.
    I strive for relief, picturing your sexy little body
    but the thought of you has gotten too polluted.
    I keep slicing open my fingers on slivers
    shed by your cracked porcelain beauty,
    having hidden the smell of my skin beneath
    the sharp, insistent scent
    of Egyptian patchouli.

  6. The Shadow of Dorkness [CW Poem, 4.2.2011]

    Yes, I wept in the alleys; I hoped for my murder,
    But killers refuse your desires.
    Do you mind the radiation when computing;
    Mind the holes it burned through ultraviolet shielding on your glasses?
    Mind the letters, they're the worst, they'll form in ways you can't expect.
    I saw guys get fired for the things they had written online,
    With Anonymous laughing; ubiquitous laughter.
    Back then we would leap on the altar and offer our dignity,
    Spurned by electrons. The letters were useless.
    The truth is a brute and the bookish are weaklings
    Not worthy of sport or attention.
    A writer I feared—he was better—surrendered
    His pen for a wrench and a pair of brass knuckles.
    He leaped from his keyboard and tattooed his arms;
    He jumped from a cliff to a river and shattered his spine,
    But he managed to walk and then ride on his motorbike—
    Knocked out some skinheads—just Nazis—collected new reptiles,
    And traveled with uniforms—six fast food uniforms,
    Paying his way as he traveled with burgers.
    He told me I'm chicken, like him I'm a chicken—
    That my savings were stupid, that my patience was stupid—
    Then he spilled half his beer and he tried for a kiss.
    "I'm free" he declared, "I'm a chicken, but free"
    Yet he walked with a limp, his knuckles were mangled, his spine was his malice.
    He said "there is never enough, so be free or shut up,"
    But I worked and I saved and I lost it and earned it
    And lost it and try every day to regain it.
    I can, but he's right, so I walked through the alley of knives
    In the shadow of dorkness,
    And always feared the evil that killers saw within me.

  7. Onyx: I liked that this piece has the flow of memory, I think it really fits the prompt well. +1

    Valerie: I like that you went outside your comfort zone in this piece and it's full of great.. I don't want to say images, but the lists of things that go wrong work like images for me. +1

    Me: meh. I just feel indifferent. I don't dislike it but I don't like it either. (0)

    Steven: Love the stanza about the battlefields being over grown as a play on the grass is always greener. Not sure about the last stanza. I think it might be stronger without it, but I don't want to subtract for it either because it provides a bridge that we don't have between the battlefield stanza and the I will love you. +1

    rToady: This has a lot of powerful imagery. I love the second line with the "didn't sleep with" in quotes, also. But I felt like the slicing on slivers of cracked porcelain beauty was maybe a little bit forced? (+1/-1=0)

    Khakjaan: I felt like this was two poems mixed up together into one. The nostalgia over the way things used to be, and the story of the guy who gives it all up and hops on the freedom train. I love the line of him leaping from his keyboard. (+1) not sure the two themes are working for me together though (-1) =0