Our Generation

Carl Dennis

Whatever they say about us, they have to agree

We managed to bridge the gap between

Those who arrived before us and those who’ve followed.
We learned enough at the schools available

To fill the entry-level positions at the extant sawmills

Our elders managed, at banks, freight yards, and hospitals,
Then worked our way up to positions of trust.

There we were, down on the shop floor

Or up in the manager’s office, or outside the office

On scaffolds, washing the windows.

Did we work with joy? With no less joy

Than people felt in the generations before us.

And on weekends and weekday evenings

We did our best to pursue the happiness

Our founders encouraged us to pursue,
And with equal gusto. Whatever they say about us
They can’t deny that we filled the concert halls,
movie houses, malls, and late-night restaurants.

We took our bows on stage or waited on tables
Or manned the refreshment booths to earn a little extra
For the things we wanted, the very things
Pursued by the generations before us
And likely to be pursued by generations to come:
Children and lawns and cars and beach towels.
And now and then we stood back to admire
The colorful spectacle, the endless variety,
As others before us admired it, and then returned
To fill our picnic baskets, drive to the park,
And use the baseball diamonds just as their makers
Intended they should be used. And if we too
Crowded into the square to cheer the officials
Who proclaimed our country as fine in fact
As it is in theory, a few of us, confined to a side street,
Carried signs declaring a truth less fanciful.
A few unheeded, it’s true, but no more unheeded
Than a similar few in generations before us
Who hoped that the truth in generations to come,
Though just as homely, would find more followers.

Carl Dennis, writer-in-residence at State University of New York, Buffalo, won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for Practical Gods.

“Our Generation,” reprinted by permission of the author; it appeared in Kenyon ReviewThe Best American Poetry 2006 and in his new volume, Unknown Friends, published by Penguin.