Piano and Scene by David Berman
A child needs to know the point of the holiday.
His aunt is saying grace over a decaffeinated coffee
and her daughter is reading a Russian novel
whose 45 chapters are set
on 45 consecutive Valentine’s Days.
Grandpa is telling the kids fairy tales
from Pennsylvania’s pretzel-making region
and it’s hard for me to be in the mood
you need me to be in right now,
as I’m suddenly wrapped up in this speculation
on the as yet undiscovered moods of the future,
like nostalgia for a discontinued model of robot
or patriotic feelings for your galaxy
which will probably resemble nostalgia and patriotism
as we now know it, but with added tiers of complexity.
Even if we could manage to travel in time, who’s to say
we could relate with those who receive us?
Perhaps we would not be able to read the expressions
on our own descendants faces for what they mean.
As advanced as we consider ourselves,
we still allow ad copy to pander to us.
The scam exposed, it endures with our permission
as a parallel narrative running beside our lives
where we sit with an unbuttered baked potato
and a warm beer in multiple versions of Akron
leavened with foreclosure, heartburn and rain.
Great-grandfather’s hobbies, whether they be botany or magic,
can barely make sense to a boy named Occupant III.
Their genius was to let us criticize them
until it became boring and obvious to do so.
Meanwhile they were up ahead, busily constructing a world
in which boring and obvious criticism
was about the worst thing you could do,
and when we reached them in time they were waiting
with their multiple Akrons,
always one link ahead in the chain of consent.
Maybe we need to give up on these simplistic
“us vs. them” oppositions that we shouldn’t believe in,
but in our anger do.
Perhaps we should be concentrating
on what’s going to happen an hour or two from now,
whether the human race will survive into this afternoon,
what kinds of food they will eat at the dinner table
and what tales they’ll tell of this morning.
This poem was selected by Russell J. (Readers’ Services)