CSULA Department of English | Statement 2003

Old at Forty-Four

Michael
Langford Whitlow

My
children tell me that I’m old.

Forty-four-years-old and still not “on line.”

Telling
them I like to browse down aisles in the public

library as
if inspecting an autumn crop of vine-ripened

tomatoes,
only adds to their growing belief.

 

So I write
them letters. “Off line” I say.

Love
letters. Letters in praise of good grades.

Letters
asking what filled their lunch boxes that day in school.

The same
stuff that one would write “on line,”

only my
words come tucked inside a cardboard sandwich

of a
Van Gogh painting, or a comic from the Peanuts Gang.

Stuff that
comes from the Hallmark Store.

And
although my typeface options are a bit limited,

they are
mine. Even the face that blots from time-to-time;

ink that
spills over from holding too much love.

I like to
think of it that way anyhow.

 

They think
I am old too because I don’t own a cell phone.

I’m not
cool like that. Both of my hands still manage

to stay on
the wheel while I’m driving.

But then
again, that’s not cool either.

With my
land-locked phone, I call them from

the island
of paradise that is my bed.

They call
me from the prison cell that is their computer.

Advantage
old.

 

Once while
taking them back for a visit

to the old
Chicago neighborhood,

I pointed
out more smells and sounds than sights.

Like the
train whistle that warned us kids to

get off
the tracks, long before the creaky old joints

of the
metal contraption ever snaked into view around the bend.

And how
one whiff of my mother’s yellow cake with chocolate icing

in the
oven would remind everyone of a family member’s

birthday
without ever having to look up the date

in that
cheap-ass Seaway Bank calendar that came free

each
Christmas when you opened a passbook savings account.

 

Maybe they
think I’m old because I prefer

James
Brown to Bobby Brown.

“Who is
that?” they ask.

“Who is
James Brown?” I say with the dumbness

of an
atheist in a confessional.

“No, who
is Bobby Brown?”

 

They
remind me, “Why write when you can call.”

“Why call
when you can visit,” I volley back.

“Why visit
when you can never leave the house

and still
talk to all of your friends at once on line.”

There is
just no way to answer that without being thought

to be
every one of those forty-four-years.

 

So I stay
at home a read book instead.

Shakespreare. Langston Hughes. Willa Cather. And Countee Cullen.

“They’re
the Maters,” I tell them.

 Â‘They’re
dead.”

“Yes, but
they keep me alive.”

 

When I’m
not reading, I’m writing poetry.

Like
deference to an emperor, I prefer meter.

It’s more
challenging so it takes more time.

These
words spill forth upon my children’s ears

as if
spoken in some foreign literary slang.

Like them
hearing an “old school” Curtis Blow rap album.

On
occasion, though, just for kicks,

I dabble
in some free verse.

Just to
remind them that I can still be young and foolish.