From time to time
The nostalgia gremlins
Get their mitts on me
And drag me back through the decades
To some distant destination
Where they plop me down
In the midst of a Technicolor moment
With a soundtrack by Elvis or Chuck
Or Bill Haley and the Comets
And bid me stick around
Until I kiss that girl
Under the apple tree
Or in the back of the convertible
And then I am utterly undone by longing
For the way things used to be
In the good old days
When gas was cheap
And movies were double features
And rock music was three chords
And a glorious eruption of
Shakes and rattles and rolls


At other times the gremlins
Head me in a different direction
And I go swirling back
To Korea and Montgomery
To Selma and Hanoi and Cambodia
And My Lai
To Kent State and Jackson State
To Martin and Malcolm and Medgar
To JFK and RFK
To 4 young girls
In a Birmingham church
No golden moment there
No joyous hound dogs and blue suede shoes
And rockin’ around the clock,
But Billie and Odetta
Nina and Sam
Singing their guts out
For peace and justice and equality,
Crying out for us all to fix our gaze
On the arc of the moral universe
And follow it all the way home.


Of course the good old days were not
The good old days
Any more than now will be
In years to come
No matter what pads and pods and buds and apps
And wristwatch phones and personal drones
And countless other gizmos and contraptions
And devices of distraction
We’ve got in our stash
It’s no use pretending
About now or about then
That we’ve ever been close to realizing
The beloved community
As lynchings and mass murders are daily news,
As hunger, homelessness, hopelessness
And rancor
Spread like an evil stench
Across the land,
As liberté, égalité, fraternité
Lie crushed beneath the weight of corporate profit,
As climate catastrophe relentlessly carbonizes
Our only atmosphere,
And nobody but all of us
Can do anything about any of it.

Buff Whitman-Bradley’s newest book is And What Will We Sing? a collection of protest and social justice poems spanning the last 25 years. He podcasts at and lives with his wife, Cynthia, in northern California. Read other articles by Buff.