New Adventures in Hi-Fi

No bread crumbs left to return us, but diversions / Lobbed beyond a blind hill into the unforeseeable

Black and white portrait of James Langer superimposed on an orange background.

If it’s true we can’t go back, let’s leave.
I remember it as rural, not pastoral, not the brochure’s
Willful ignorance, but, sure, pushed to the periphery
By newsflash and videos piped in from the oblivion
Of the public broadcaster, where life, not our lives,
Appeared as a fashion, as a rummage sale of dishabille
And oversized blazers fluorescent in a blue light not unlike
The brume above a darkening sea with sunlight
Still mirrored on the surface. And to think
We wanted it to arrive, like weather on prevailing winds.
And of course, it did. Though not as a storm, more
A sudden fear of forgetting, nostalgia seeping in
Where identity receded.
                                                    But before that
There was work to get done, and every so often
Some Achilles, insulted by the powers that be,
Would rage into the frame to assault his given tasks
With hellacious efficiency because, yeah,
That’ll teach them. Hayloft stogged, fish splayed open
To the lift of the sun, months of heat lying in wait
In regiments of stacked firewood, animals in pens
With the fat of our futures about them, the rooster’s
Misguided sense of ownership—it all seemed
Outside the system, though exposed to its comic-strip
Rainclouds: welfare slips
For textbooks, outstanding bills, powdered milk,
And the constant unadorned directives to get out,
Make something of ourselves, and not look back.
No bread crumbs left to return us, but diversions
Lobbed beyond a blind hill into the unforeseeable.

All wealth is founded on debt,
And those who fail to see the logic in that
Have succeeded. Only by living in it did our recurring
Conundrums—holes in our knees, collection agencies— 
Seem random. Then even from a distance, the general
And specific rattled loose into constituent parts,
A disassembled machine, until you were seized
By an overwhelming feeling
Of boredom, with the swell of repairing sleep rising beneath,
That you might wake someday, powerless but free
In your own dead weight. You moved on,
                                                                    holding each new thing,
Each new activity, its precious name and entertainment,
Up to the artificial glow until they felt owned
By possession. And when all was yours and yours alone,
You turned your head away, and those who carried you,
As though you were a necessity, were gone.
To speak for them now, from this fresh abundance
Of referents and lopsided comparisons, is to lead them,
Like some dumb ox, into the on-off of a paradox, one half of which
Is the greatest betrayal. My absence at the table,
Which they love and loathe in equal measure,
Is already the unspoken projection of themselves,
A fog burned off, a gloaming. They have vanished.
The clean brook where once we plucked the thickest trout
With two-foot poles from beneath its rippling surface, a sound
That marked the border of what we were allowed,
Grown over now with concealing alders, a sound
Without tangible source, unbound
From significance, the house gone back to ground.

James Langer
James Langer co-edited The Breakwater Book of Contemporary Newfoundland Poetry.