‘Cruising with the Beach Boys’ a poem by Dana Gioia

Have you ever taken a ‘daydream detour’ on a business trip, driving from the airport to a client along a winding beach side road? Maybe your playlist takes a momentary shuffle to a memory inducing moment. If yes, the ‘Friday Poem’ this week is for you, from Dana Gioia, California’s new Poet Laureate.

Gioia earned both his BA and MBA from Stanford University and an MFA from Harvard University. He was a marketing executive for General Foods for 15 years before his transition to full time writer. In 2003 he was named head of the National Endowment for the Arts, a position he held until 2009.

His poetry reflects his roots in a working class suburb of Los Angeles, and often references the time before, when his place @work was in corporate America. He continues to be a new millennium model for successful career transition.

This week’s Friday Poem is his ‘Cruising with the Beach Boys’; a California poem, by a California guy, from his shared hometown with the Beach Boys, before a freeway ran through it, Hawthorne, California.

Cruising with the Beach Boys

So strange to hear that song again tonight
Travelling on business in a rented car
Miles from anywhere I’ve been before.
And now a tune I haven’t heard for years
Probably not since it last left the charts
Back in L.A. in 1969.
I can’t believe I know the words by heart
And can’t think of a girl to blame them on.

Every lovesick summer has its song,
And this one I pretended to despise,
But if I was alone when it came on,
I turned it up full-blast to sing along –
A primal scream in croaky baritone,
The notes all flat, the lyrics mostly slurred.
No wonder I spent so much time alone
Making the rounds in Dad’s old Thunderbird.

Some nights I drove down to the beach to park
And walk along the railings of the pier.
The water down below was cold and dark,
The waves monotonous against the shore.
The darkness and the mist, the midnight sea,
The flickering lights reflected from the city –
A perfect setting for a boy like me,
The Cecil B. DeMille of my self-pity.

I thought by now I’d left those nights behind,
Lost like the girls that I could never get,
Gone with the years, junked with the old T-Bird.
But one old song, a stretch of empty road,
Can open up a door and let them fall
Tumbling like boxes from a dusty shelf,
Tightening my throat for no reason at all
Bringing on tears shed only for myself.

Dana Gioia   ‘Daily Horoscope’ 1986

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