“Old Florida,” a poem by Robin Becker, 2010-11 Penn State laureate


Within families, tensions between generations
often provide raw material for poems, both humorous and serious. For example, as parents
age and retire, adult children may struggle to
reconcile their parents’ desire for independence with their need for increased care. The speaking
daughter in “Old Florida” chooses words such as bunker, blitz, infrastructure, refugees
and foxhole to evoke the internecine war she’s
waging with her parents. Her parents, however, thwart
her campaign and thus supply the poem with its irony and humor.
A question to think about, “How does your family enact generational anxieties, and what
strategies have family members employed to sort them
out?” Old Florida When the soon-to-be famous hurricane
hurried to their neighborhood, I begged them to leave. Rain made a cassoulet of the parking
lot; winds juggled giant palms like rolling pins
– but they hunkered down, children
under desks in the 50s, the storm their personal blitz. I cried, I screamed over the phone but they
rejected the generator-backed shelter I found, chose
canned goods and bunker, until the phone died –
and I consigned them to their neighbors, their luck, their blood-thinners. Eighty-seven years old, they hid on the ninth
floor, elevator out, infrastructure crumbling, but
more than death or thirst they feared their daughter
with her talk of evacuation. Leaving home, even for natural disaster, made
them refugees, registrants in a vast and subtly documented conspiracy to remove them
from their apartment to assisted living. Neighbors found them sweating in their foxhole,
delivered salami and crackers and ice, and when the power came back, they phoned
to report that hardship brought out the kindness in people, wasnt it fortunate they stayed
in their home? And where was my faith in human goodness?

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