The people in the songs want out.
They will not be your baby anymore.
You cannot call them sweetheart.
You must stop telling them how
lovesick you are, how you can’t get
by without them. How you cry, smoke,
walk the floor. How you can’t stop
loving them. They don’t want to hear
about your dumb hurt, your feelings
about rain and moonlight, how much
you miss their kisses. How you want
to hold their hand. What you think
about their lips and eyes. They’re done.
Your desperate love has stolen all their fun.
We Have Always Made Mistakes
You come to town bringing the 1940s with you.
Factory girls banging garbage can lids against the stoop.
Big red cars with running boards.
Hair reaching into the sky. Music on the rooftops.
Saxophones, trumpets, endless crooning.
It’s going fast, baby. Sex is always fully dressed.
Religion is as close to us as paint to a wall.
The world goes around in circles. Nobody dies.
The 1950s step in, wearing big hats and brown suits.
One person dies. Girls acquire breasts.
Amoebas and parameciums crawl all over your desk.
Professional wrestling glows in the tenement dark.
The Pope never cracks a smile.
Jesus and Brigitte Bardot also glow in the tenement dark.
The ’60s are very happy to see you.
They march into the ghetto and teach
everyone the rules of grammar.
Speeches rage in the burning night.
At high noon, three people die in the street,
two more in their beds. Music grows hair.
The world ends abruptly, starts up again, only different.
You can now take off your clothes.
The 1970s: You can drift now all you like.
Cats are soon everywhere. There’s always one on your lap.
But the dogs have vanished.
There are only two cowboy movies left.
The rent goes up on everything for everyone.
The tenants are junkies. Nobody dies.
In the 1980s, the president taxes everyone’s patience.
Interest in the interest rate plummets. People go to the gym.
Hundreds die. Containment takes over.
A new cure for sex is invented.
Dogs begin to turn up everywhere.
The 1990s: Long train rides are disallowed. Forget about them.
The oceans howl at night like banshees.
The earth spins twice as fast.
Mommies and daddies cry inconsolably in Disney World.
Priests have erections lasting longer than four hours.
The Virgin Mary appears for one night only.
Nobody knows how many days are left in the week.
Enter the 2000s. Garages fill up. Basements are flooded.
The dead come back to life. Oh, wait. Not true.
Screens light up with visions of God as a big eye frying on a frying pan.
Peoples’ heads can now live on after they die.
Big plastic bags of old clothes are left on the porch for God, who is naked.
The 2010s. Please take off your glasses.
Memory is very forgettable.
The prisons are now filled with cats, dogs, priests, dead bodies.
Music is dressed in fur coats and wrapped in Pendleton blankets.
Voices call out into the empty streets.
Terence Winch’s latest book, That Ship Has Sailed, was published in 2023 as part of the Pitt Poetry Series from the University of Pittsburgh Press. He is the author of eight earlier poetry collections. A Columbia Book Award and American Book Award winner, he has also written a young adult novel called Seeing-Eye Boy and two story collections, Contenders and That Special Place. His work has appeared in many journals and in more than 50 anthologies, among them the Oxford Book of American Poetry, Poetry 180, and 6 editions of Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of an NEA Poetry Fellowship and a Gertrude Stein Award for Innovative Writing, among other honors. The works featured here are from his forthcoming book of occasional love poems called It Is as If Desire, due in 2024 from Hanging Loose Press.