The Uses of Nostalgia

Lawrence Raab


Twenty years ago there was a life for each of us

to turn away from or embrace. A song returns to remind me

of what I must have felt,

and when it’s over, I play it back again.

Each time it’s true.

Don’t we look beautiful in the picture

no one ever took,

the clear sky unfurled above us, the wind

ruffling our hair,

everybody’s real life just about to begin?


I know nostalgia

wants to make the present

feel bereft: a way of pretending,

neither the truth, nor invention.


as a disease;

sentimental yearning for the past.

First love. Second love. All that brilliance

the years have blurred, if not disproved.

Making the big play and winning the game.

Season after season, someone does it.


Above us the fan was slowly circling.

It was a room in which others must have made love often, and sometimes

both of them felt good about it.

As we did just then, our bodies allowing us the aftermath

that’s sweeter than desire—

and a whole day to follow in which every small gesture

had already been explained.


Sometimes I can hear

the teacher in me speaking so passionately

about the world inside a book I’m sure

no one will leave the room unchanged. Until I notice

who isn’t paying attention, disappointed

when it’s the prettiest girl

fiddling with her notes, no reader

for the poem so exact

it could make her fall in love.

And I haven’t forgotten nights

when desire was an instruction

my body refused to believe.

Then we had nothing that was right

to say to each other.


Then it’s not the past

I yearn for, but the idea

of a time when everything important

has not yet happened:

love, fame, happiness—

unrealized, yet certain,

like the moment when we take our places

in a theater:

that slow falling of the lights,

that hush

as the unseen curtain rises.


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