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Posted by on Jan 24, 2020 in Poetry | 3 comments

Poisonous Nostalgia

Last fall I found myself sitting in a fancy hotel bar on the corner of 17th and Park, a few doors down from where Max’s was. I started scribbling on napkins, and it was this O’hara-y story poem, a kind of poem I used to write all the time. Nostalgia is poisonous. One ages. The world changes. New York especially. My mother used say how great it was in the 40s. For others it’s the 50s, 60s or 70s. I have read autobiographies (ahem, not memoirs) where the author pines for the Village of the 20s, or 1890s. I think it’s always the 20s: to be in NY in your 20s is to be in heaven because, well, one is ones 20s. But there are also real changes. We are living in a time in which the accumulated changes of 40 years have given birth to a beast. It is the most reactionary period of my life certainly and arguably the history of the country. Are we poised for a reset? A demographic revolution, the old white people dying and with them their White Supremacy and White Nationalism, their passion for personal enrichment at the expense of the communities that create that wealth, where one old white man’s desire for a private putting green overrules a nation’s need for clean water, where one whiny brat’s desire to attend college is sufficient to overturn decades of affirmative action, where a week’s profit greater than a nation’s sustenance takes priority over a burning planet? We don’t know. But once great cities, Whitman’s brawling working class republic, are for the rich alone. I would like to believe we are on the verge of a new age, truly, I would really like to believe it, but I don’t. Like Beckett says in so many ways, I will continue to work hard to fail.


Hotel W, 17th and Park
a woman at the bar
back turned to her purse.
I want to rehearse
the thefts I’ve seen since
the last time I had a beer
on this block in 1980
at Max’s where I did
bad things that were fun
like Black Russians drugs
Johnny Thunders asleep at the mike.
Expensive pilsner now,
Happy Hour business men
and my bag full of books,
Bronk in the slanting September sun.
Old New Yorkers swim among the new
ancient and invisible
shoulders rolled from sleeping
hard in rent controlled apartments,
views of air shafts, rivers, avenues
and the bookstores, free to browse
the parks free
and full of weed smoking assholes
staring and tapping at phones
thinkers bent forward on their knees.
It is a good city to read in
no one stares and noodles
for under ten bucks,
a nice hotel to drink in
no bikers bouncing drunks
Lori thrown down the stairs.
Things change of course.
We had a black president.
The planet burns.



  1. “Nostalgia is poisonous”…another fine piece. Thanks for sharing, Jon.

  2. thank you both. i wasn’t sure at all about this one!

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