Elegy for my Twenties

Russel Swensen

They were spent, despite my best efforts
in the city of Los Angeles
where the palm trees never seemed real to me
floating in front of the hair salons & nail parlors
in their wooden dresses that shone slick
as taffeta or

the trees were
beauticians talking amongst themselves

knowing something about loss
that escaped me then (as it escapes me now)
about how it can be dressed up

or concealed or made to shine with a hard
cake-like light

that both dazzles & sedates.  Like youth itself,
once you have passed it by    as I passed derelict cars
on the 405

old carapaces leaking old & silent families onto the shoulder
or into the rear view mirror

where they hardened & turned red with distance.
But this isn’t about them.

& if I claimed to care about them,
perhaps that would be worse than simply not caring,
perhaps some things you can’t make beautiful, perhaps one
solitary thing

which you do not own, but hold, helplessly in your hands, this
self you’ve invested so much in.  This self you've surrounded
with swaying

trees & abandoned cars & sentient perfume   (that clings to you
because it loves you)     does it even sound

familiar? Do you remember instead    do you prefer
or regret

those condemned houses you used
to wake in    those decaying recliners   with bad cocaine on tv
trays   your little parade

of women you drove mad with worry    the needle you found
in your car     the black rubber staff     that had been inside someone
& left behind—

is this better, is this worse.  It has to matter,
but it doesn’t.

There is this notion we have that
to write a good poem  you have to be a good person
or seem like one—

which means you can’t trust anyone.   This is a problem,
a real one.

You've never had another.