"The Quaintness of the Past"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 8 2010 6:51 AM

"The Quaintness of the Past"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Billy Collins  read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
.

I turn the page of a magazine
and find a black-and-white photograph
of a roadhouse taken in the 1950s,
an old clapboard affair
with a car of that vintage,
maybe a Plymouth, parked in front.

It is almost enough to inspire me
to take a snapshot of something around here
first thing in the morning,
maybe the little bakery down the street
where I often go for coffee and a muffin
and the big city paper
and the French girls behind the counter.

Ideallythere would be a few modern cars
parked in front,
then all I would have to do
is walk back home and wait 50 or 100 years
for the photograph to become a thing of interest and value.

Of course, I will be long gone by then
and time will have marched on,
though I never think of time as marching
down a football field blowing a trumpet
or into a city square
with a rifle on its shoulder.

I picture time advancing more slowly
up a mountain, leaving
all the moments of history behind
like climbers who have to leave behind
one of their companions on a cold glacial slope.

And sometimes, decades later,
the body is discovered,
the ice is chipped away, and we get to see
a photograph of the remains—
the bones of the hands arthritically
fisted up, the jaw locked tight,
a skull wearing a woolen cap,
the man quaintly smiling out at us from the past
before we wet a finger and turn the page.

.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 19 2014 1:10 PM Ascension Island: Home of Lava Fields, a False Forest, and the World's Worst Golf Course
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 3:07 PM Everything Is a "Women's Issue"
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 5:03 PM White House Chief Information Officer Will Run U.S. Ebola Response
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.