Chuck Ross

A Family Trip Evokes Poetic Thoughts of Spring, Robert Frost and an Odd College Tradition

Apr 5, 2013

Walking Back to the Future

The resemblance was uncanny.
She looked remarkably like Payton,
A girl whom I had had a crush on
Like Forrest had on Jenny.

Back then we were both seventeen
Studying romantic poets in the spring.
She paid me no mind, of course,
Which made my uncomfortable longing even worse.

I was reminded of this last week,
While taking my son on college tours back East,
Discovering student docents walking backwards dangerously fast.
Not a job for the weak or those with the wrong technique.

How odd this backwards walking
As these undergraduate guides do their non-stop talking,
Avoiding obstacles and precipices
While explaining freshman meal choices.

It was sunny and cool in Just-spring again,
As we were in Amherst on this particular tour,
Home of not cummings but Frost and his poetic vigour
On a campus marked by hills and more than one glen.

The guide who reminded me so much of Payton
Showed us the Robert Frost Library, so-named because he had taught at the college so often,
And she told us that President Kennedy had given a moving speech in which the poet was feted
During a dedication ceremony that took place a month before JFK was assassinated.

I remembered a poem by Frost I had known in my youth, called “Wind and the Window Flower”:

Lovers, forget your love,
  And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
  And he a winter breeze.

When the frosty window veil
  Was melted down at noon,
And the caged yellow bird
  Hung over her in tune,

He marked her through the pane,
  He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by,
  To come again at dark.

He was a winter wind,
  Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
  And little of love could know.

But he sighed upon the sill,
  He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
  Who lay that night awake.

Perchance he half prevailed
  To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking glass
  And warm stove-window light.

But the flowers leaned aside
  And thought of naught to say,
And morning found the breeze
  A hundred miles away.

While I was looking up this poem again on the Internet, to get all of its words right, I found the following comment about it posted by someone in the Philippines. It’s not exactly how I had interpreted the poem:

"I think the poem talks about a man or a boy who was attracted to a very pretty woman (when we say flower, it means beauty ).. so the girl must really be beautiful. Problem was, the girl must be some kind of heavily guarded and watched.. must be a daughter of a rich couple.. never allowed to talk to anyone not of her kind.. so the boy just watched her from afar.. and the girl also just watched the boy from through her window.. eventually, they managed to talk to each other but they were caught by the guards.. thus the line: and the breeze was found the next morning a hundred miles away..The boy must have been arrested and put in prison.. A SAD ENDING to a great love story."

Payton, as I recall, hadn’t really liked the poem at all, and blew me off as well.
Now the campus tour was over and we were asked if we thought our comely guide was swell,
Including if her walking backward prowess was OK or just pell-mell.

Later my son, who, unlike me, is not a wordsmith impostor,
Confessed that yes, he had a small crush on our tour guide, the girl who walked back to the future.#

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