The confluence of a birthday, the publication of a book review and a note from my high school graduating class (1970) sent me back to “1969,” the first poem in No Word of Farewell: Selected Poems 1970-2000 (Story Line Press, 2001) by R.S. Gwynn:
“A dim-lit, smoky bar. Your twenty-first
Birthday has brought a golden Benrus watch,
A marriage, a degree, a double Scotch?
None of which will quite satisfy your thirst.
“It’s after one. The pianist is playing
Procul Harum's `A Whiter Shade of Pale.’
You scuff your side-zip boots along the rail
And neither think of leaving nor of staying.
“Why bring it back again? Surely you know
Your future guns his engine at the door,
And soon enough he’ll steer an exit for
A suburb where you have no wish to go.
“Why bring it back? Because you want me to.
Because you want to light your cigarette,
Clutching a scene which you cannot forget
Where everything you gaze upon is new.”
The “plot” might be Richard Yates’, from an earlier American era. Regrets, delusions. The speaker’s second-person is accusatory, suggesting guilt. We all sometimes wallow in nostalgia. “Clutching” is the operative verb, implying something desperate. Who doesn’t long for a time of innocence, real or imagined, when everything seemed new? Before we lost things and it all went stale.