1076: a story from the eighties by Debra Marquart

20240318 Slowdown

1076: a story from the eighties by Debra Marquart


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Occasionally, I pretend to resist feelings of nostalgia. A song in a grocery store that typically has me humming in the aisles, I tune out. At a party, I walk away from a circle of friends discussing their favorite movies, a topic that once sparked exciting debates about mise-en-scène. Every moment with my children was precious, yet I have banned myself from sharing favorite stories as a parent. Somehow, I got it in my mind that remembrances of things past prevented me from standing fully in the here and now — that musings about foregone events would eclipse any potential value I placed in the present.

Then, last month, I attended a school reunion and Sneaker Ball. Seeing the gently aged faces of old classmates, whom I have not seen in many years, melted my cold stares cast toward the past. All decked in their finest, I relished our spirit of celebration on the dancefloor, so evident in our smiles and bodies. The seconds, minutes, hours, and years spun like jewels above our heads. Today’s poem lives in the remnants of a time that long ago shaped me, my music, my sense of fashion, my joy.

a story from the eighties
by Debra Marquart

that could never happen again 
in that house on brookdale road
three blocks from the red river

where a pack of neighborhood girls 
loved to ring my doorbell and sit
on my living room floor, pop pink

and blue bubblegum, paint
fingernails and toes in mauve 
and purple sparkles and beg

to brush and braid my hair,
which was long and dark then
down to my waist, and I was young

and childless with plenty of time
they thought, to gossip about
barrettes and eye shadow and boys

as much as any ten-year-old knows
and organize sword fights in the kitchen 
with the used-up paper tubes

from wrapping paper, and so
it was my door they ran to that day
when they spotted a painted turtle

wandering down the middle
of brookdale road like a toddler
on a tricycle festooned with red and blue

streamers for the neighborhood 
fourth of july parade, and we all ran out
to admire his dark olive shell

and green-gold eyes, the striped
yellow neck he extended
to propel himself forward

carrying his house on his back
and the bright orange flashes 
of his underside. he’d wandered

too far from the river, we guessed
and they fretted he’d get run over,
so I fetched a box and gloves

and scooped him up, then straight
into my plymouth fury along with
five or six ponytailed girls, all gum pops

and chatter in cutoffs and tank tops,
and we raced to gooseberry park,
no time for seat belts or sunglasses

or stopping to tell the parents.
imagine. on the shore of the red,
we set him down in the mud

near the swift brown current,
and nose in the air—no hesitation—
he descended the steep bank

and disappeared beneath
the ripples as we looked north,
the direction we knew the red flowed

then cheered when he bobbled 
into view a few hundred feet 
upriver, singing goodbye little turtle

goodbye. don’t ever look back.

“a story from the eighties” by Debra Marquart from GRATITUDE WITH DOGS UNDER STARS © 2023 Debra Marquart. Used by permission of North Dakota State University Press.