American Life in Poetry: Column 640


"You can't go home again," said Thomas Wolfe, and you can't put your hand in the same river twice. Change is relentless. But we can still, in memory, go back to where we were. This poem is by P. Ivan Young, who lives in Omaha. It was first published in The Cortland Review. His most recent book is Smell of Salt, Ghost of Rain, from Brick House Books.

Visiting the Neighborhood

The entrance at the back of the complex
led onto a road, where an upended couch
tilted into a ditch and a washing machine
gleamed avocado beneath pine needles.
From the end, you turned left and left again,
then cut a trail to find the cul-de-sac
of bright brick houses. We'd walk as far
as we dared before a man pushing a mower
might stop to ask, "whadda you boys need?"
That was a question we could never answer.
I loved the name of the place, White Hall,
imagined that each interior was a stretch
of marble perfect wall adorned by smiling
photos of the family. Our own halls
were brailled with nail holes of former
tenants, the spackled rounds of fists.
But doesn't longing clarify the body?
The boys I left behind: Tommy, wearing
the World War II trenching tool;
Danny, whose father, so much older
than the other parents, died in his recliner
one sunny afternoon while watching baseball;
Duke, who stole his mother's car and crashed
into a wall. Boys who knew when you were posing,
waiting for someone to say, "smile." Boys
who, on those latch-key days, held themselves
in narrow passages when no one
was there to show them what to do. 

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by P. Ivan Young, “Visiting the Neighborhood,” from The Cortland Review, (No. 59, 2013). Poem reprinted by permission of P. Ivan Young and the publisher.  Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.