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.