Back Then

By John Brehm

Featured Art: Miss M. of Washington by Rose Clark

Everything was better back then.
Even my nostalgia was better, more piercing, more true.
I miss missing things that much,
but not as much as I missed
missing things back then.
Even my anxieties about the future,
which have indeed come to pass,
were more vivid back then,
more real. Reality itself seemed
more real back then—this clanking
stage-play only a fool could find
convincing—I fell for it all,
and it killed me, again and again.
Ghosts of myself wander
the cities I’ve lived in, thinking
of other cities, imagining me
here imagining them.
We nod to each other across
the years, the way the last line
of a poem will sometimes look
back, wistfully,
at the first.


John Brehm is the author of three books of poetry, most recently No Day at the Beach, and a volume of essays, The Dharma of Poetry. He’s the editor of The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy and the associate editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Originally appeared in NOR 14.

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