834: Two Boys Ago

834: Two Boys Ago

834: Two Boys Ago


I’m Jason Schneiderman, and this is The Slowdown.

Can I share a milestone in olding? I was watching Saturday Night Live, and this boy band came on, and instead of thinking, “wow, these guys are great,” Or “This is terrible, I can’t believe that this is what the kids like,” I thought, “Huh. So that’s what boy bands look like now.”

They were well choreographed, handsome. I was a little surprised that the old archetypes—the brain, the jock, the prep—seemed to have dissolved into a single persona. But maybe I have just lost the ability to distinguish types of young men because I’m not one anymore.

This isn’t about me being jaded exactly, or aging into grumpiness or anything like that. It’s about having too much context. Or so much context that I simply placed this boyband into my existing framework. I’ve lived through NSYNC and Take That and Boyz II Men and Backstreet Boys and 98 Degrees and New Edition. And I remember so clearly my first boy band.

I was twelve years old. The New Kids on the Block’s video for “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” came on MTV. I was transfixed. I even learned the dance—which turns out is not actually cool to perform at your cousin’s bar mitzvah when the DJ plays the song, or at least not the way I did the dance.

But at that time, I had no context, so I just kept trying things out. “You Got It (The Right Stuff)” was the first piece in a puzzle that I joyfully spent decades putting together. And context is the difference between having the first puzzle piece in your hand, and placing a final piece into an almost finished picture. There’s something wonderful about having no context, about the first time you encounter an idea in art or life, that shock of recognition and that glimpse of a new world, but there’s also something wonderful about being able to see how that idea fits into a bigger picture.

Today’s poem offers us those puzzle pieces one by one, but as a negative. In refusing the things the speaker no longer wants, fragments of life come into focus, and we discover a gorgeous portrait of the artist and the poet, and the mystery of negation that makes each piece present.

Two Boys Ago
by Kazim Ali

                              after Lucie Brock-Broido

No tired queens.

No ghosts coming back to replay their shredded remnants of old failures.

No more wishing for death. No more answering death’s letters.

No thousand and second night.

No curse for the only President I ever truly loathed.

No breathing into the fire, no digging down into earth.

No merciful caress of the cat fatally wounded in the street last June.

No ear or voice.

No tough zippered stride, no declaration of independence.

No more searching my skin with my own palms, searching for rib-bones’ or hip-
bones’ protrusions.

No horizontal desperation, no seeking the sun.

No flounce of my hair, that old gesture, every time I open my mouth to begin.

No beginning.

No making love in the evening light on the hotel balcony.

No poem to explain myself.

No promise. No more ghosting death. In the index of the planet’s history of god 
and literature and the human spirit I decline any entry.

"Two Boys Ago" by Kazim Ali. Used by permission of the poet.