I wrote this poem after watching Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women and hearing an excerpt of Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence speech in it. The same speech that has so much meaning but was the butcher of Carter’s political career as well, hence a double-edged sword.
It’s films and speeches like this that speak to me, as the UK and America in 2017 look to be going in the same direction that they did in the 1980s under the Thatcher-Reagan Administration.
America has traded one celebrity for another (Reagan for Trump) and doesn’t Mrs May look an awful lot like Maggie Thatcher? Didn’t Maggie pretty much screw everyone who didn’t live in London? Just a little thinking point.
This poem is written from the perspective of Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening), the main character of Mike Mills’ film. And the film is about her raising her son in a world that she doesn’t really know, so she enlists the help of his best friend and their lodger.
The character in my poem may or may not be Dorothea’s ghost watching her son live a life from the other place.
Santa Barbara 1979: the era of Ford galaxies
and 40-year old moms, I got in late huh?
Late to this shindig, a great decision in this
Parisian dream, as I put my finger into his palm
and he squeezed, wheezing for breath with
each sigh lingering and I whispered to him:
life is big and beautiful, bold like a race horse.
There were fantastic beasts, cities, synced sounds
and moving pictures – we call those movies– and he
reeled his own love stories, like his own Casablanca
with passion and meaning, changing fashions that
gleam with hopes and dreams, and he’s living a life –
unlike me, born in the 20s, raised in The Depression,
lived through a war, driving sad cars to sadder
houses with not a dollar to my name, – no phones,
no food or TV – the 50s gave birth to Technicolor
but not before I volunteered to fight at sixteen, with
the skies as my domain . Wondering if I was happy
– you could call that a shortcut to depression,
but the people were real.
The 60s came, and then the Me Decade.
I smoked Salems because they were healthier.
I wore Birkenstocks because they were contemporary
and listened to the best jams, those pretty little sounds.
Can’t music just be pretty? But then we’d have to
admit that society is corrupt. This is my son’s world
and it sucks, I lucked out here didn’t I? Aw jeeze!
I grew up with The Depression and smogged streets.
He has Reagan, the Berlin Wall and the Black Panthers –
the Mac and intelligence-suppressing drugs that hug the
life out him like The Big Smoke in London, dark times.
Does it take a man to raise a man? History is tough
on men – the expectations are high, and not being
allowed to cry must be exhausting but then we have
problems like Breast Cancer and bloody sheets.
Man or woman; it’s all redundant when age is a
bourgeois construct, obstructing the capacity for
free thought in this common-senseless era.
We’ve lost the way, paying into a system
of greed and self-indulgence. Capitalism,
it’s an unsatisfying quest for meaning that
leans into the 2017 down this yellow brick
road paved with gold, in this crisis of confidence.