Poetry by Joel Savishinsky: "Ithaca Forever . . . Whatever"
(for the class of 1977’s 30-Year Reunion)
“Ithaca, forever” . . . whatever
a hopeful dream,
a wish that, like Ulysses, we might
come home if we could ever
outlive our students loans.
true debt lies in the blood,
not in the bank, a place where only
accountants live and others die
for lack of real interest.
pray, instead, to the lightning-forked sky
above South Hill, to
Thunder-throwing Zeus: ask him
to “shine your light on me” for,
30 years after walking from the stadium, you know
your eyes are not the diamond-edged tools
they once were, that once thought
they could see the future itself
and now beg for bifocals to write the check
and see the signs that still say:
Scranton, Binghamton, Whitney Point,
Richford: Ithaca —17 miles.
Does any such distance rule?
Can it measure the roads
you have searched since leaving
in a rush and a rage of sentiment?
Have you yourself not said —
in the cloud of the dark falling night,
to the person on the next pillow,
whether he or she was there because
you were with the one
you loved, or just loving the one
you were with — have you not said,
to them all, each and every one,
as you once sang to Ithaca:
“In my heart, together we shall
But while you mouthed
the formula out loud, you didn’t quite
birth the words in your being.
You held back because at 18 or 21,
or some multiple of 7, you didn’t want
to risk yourself, never having been much of
a risk-taker, not, at that age, with that
four-chambered house called your heart.
You could make toasts. Look your bedmate
in the eye, raise a glass and say —
here inserting a name as you once did —
to Tom or Carl, Ramon or Elaine, Anne or Alice —
so that it came out as if you were mooning
or moaning some misplaced version of
“To Ithaca, my Ithaca, how beautiful
you are.” And so you drank in your belle de jour
before moving hungrily
on to the evening’s business.
Now there are
different souls who merit a sacrifice,
a libation. The ones who watch and rarely sing.
So let us praise and recall
those not here today —
some merely absent, and others sadly dead,
those who have left us through no choice
of their own, taken to memory by illness,
chance or, worse because more tragic,
stolen by war.
War itself an admission
of defeat as soon as it starts,
for war is the failure of diplomacy, it is
the bankruptcy of the imagination. And so
it is the failed and the bankrupt who steal
and seduce our sons and daughters, our fathers
and friends, and break them like toys in their
soiled, stupid games.
Iran, Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Cuba,
Kuwait, Iraqistan . . . name one war
that was necessary, that warranted
human sacrifice, since you walked
out of your last class, that was worth
your brother’s eyes, or legs, or life.
Name . . . just . . . one.
shall we raise to comrades,
to teachers, to elders in blood, to our own
hopeful histories when we sobered up at 21?
Did your mind’s muscle strain then, as
“The towers high upon South Hill” to
“reach from stone to star”? Or was
your goal the substance of modesty, to make
enough to just get stoned?
So many schemes,
scenarios, silences and well-rehearsed accounts
even before you took the next step,
as you left college for a different kind
of forever, and returned like Odysseus to someplace
and someone else, before the smoke
took on so many colors, and your passport came back
stamped with success, hubris, and humility,
carrying you home from Africa, Asia, and
the Latins’ own version of America.
Mostly you live now in the land of encumbrance:
the age of mortgage, mufflers, and insurance,
of children, their college loans, deadlines,
and your under-funded pension plan.
A scaffold heavy too with the past nested
inside your cells: former jobs, old lovers,
X-rays, extracted teeth, Ex-lax,
single malt scotch in place of Ecstasy.
You, my friend, are now ex-rated.
In autumn, we grow dangerously close
to what we feared, with husbands
or wives like plants entwined
for double strength against the threat
of winter’s winds.
With a deep breath drawn down
into the furnace of our guts,
we prepare to make a different investment.
For whatever guides and beacons
once lit your way across quads and
continents, however bright your own visions
once seemed, there is at least
some small corner of your private kingdom
that you are ready to give over, where you pray that
“all your sons and daughters” may “dare
to live their dreams.” Their dreams.
So you do your dreamwork and you
work at your worry. You scratch the thin, soft skin
that has grown over memory.
You shudder to see how much
you are already capable of forgetting.
You plead for the discipline to
remember to remember. And
like some lost pilgrim,
you cry before the sudden shrine
of your children’s pictures, asking
yourself, asking the oracle you once
claimed to be: Can you grant them
their dreams, without giving up yours?
"In 1977, I conducted an anthropological field school in the Bahamas, on Cat Island, in 1977, with 11 students. We spent a month doing intensive ethnographic research on a network of indigenous communities on the island, and produced a book, Strangers No More, which remains one of the few substantive accounts of life in that particular Caribbean culture. The students and I had stayed in touch on and off over the years, and this October, 10 of them and I held a reunion 30 years after our intensive group experience. I wrote this poem for the entire class of ’77, a riff on the College’s anthem, 'Ithaca Forever.' I tried to capture what college life and its afterlife look like to people who left South Hill 30 years ago."
—Joel S. Savishinsky
Cultural anthropologist Joel Savishinsky joined the Ithaca College faculty in 1973 and recently retired as the Charles A. Dana Professor in the Social Sciences. His research has concentrated on aging, environmental issues, intergenerational relations, and human development. His books have twice won the Gerontological Society of America’s book prize. “My career so far,” he says, “has given me a chance to meet and live with people in diverse settings, plus opportunities to explore and work on a variety of critical human issues ranging from survival and family life to aging and mortality. It has been especially gratifying to engage my students in a collaborative role as researchers, thinkers, and activists, addressing some of the pressing social problems of our times.”