Ode on My Wasted Youth

by Barbara Hamby

Is there anything so ridiculous as being twenty
        and carrying around a copy of Being and Nothingness,
so boys will think you have a fine mind
        when really your brain is a whirling miasma,
a rat’s nest erected by Jehovah, Rousseau, Dante,
        George Eliot, and Bozo the Clown?
I might as well have been in costume and on stage,
        I was so silly, but with no appreciation
of my predicament, like a dim-bulb ingenue
        with a fluffy wig being bamboozled by a cad
whose insincerity oozes from every orifice,
        but she thinks he’s spiritual, only I was playing
both roles, hoodwinking myself with ideas
        that couldn’t and wouldn’t do me much good, buying berets,
dreaming of Paris and utter degradation,
        like Anaïs Nin under Henry Miller or vice versa.
Other people were getting married and buying cars,
        but not me, and I wasn’t even looking for Truth,
just some kind of minor grip on the whole enchilada,
        and I could see why so many went for eastern cults,
because of all religions Hinduism is the only one
        that seems to recognize the universal mess
and attack it with a set of ideas even wackier
        than said cosmos, and I think of all
my mistaken notions, like believing “firmament”
        meant “earth” and then finding out it meant “sky,”
which is not firm at all, though come to find out the substance
        under our feet is rather lacking in solidity as well.
Oh, words, my very dear friends,
        whether in single perfection—mordant, mellifluous,
multilingual—or crammed together
        in a gold-foil-wrapped chocolate valentine
like Middlemarch, how could I have survived without you,
        the bread, the meat, the absolute confection,
like the oracles at Delphi drinking their mad honey,
        opening my box of darkness with your tiny, insistent light.