Forty Years Ago

I’ve been saying “forty years ago” a lot lately. 

And the twenty- and thirty-somethings 

and forty-somethings are doing the math:

He must be a pretty old fucker, they’re thinking,

if he can say “forty years ago” in a sentence–lots

of sentences, too many sentences–and get away with it. 

But he hasn’t gotten away because he’s still here,

saying “forty years ago” this and “forty years ago”

that. We weren’t even here forty years ago, they’re 

saying. But here we all are now having to listen 

to this old guy going on and on about forty years ago,

like he’s been there, done that, and moved on. But

he hasn’t budged. “Forty years ago,” he keeps saying,

and we can’t keep letting him get away with that.


Das Ewig-Weibliche zieht uns hinan 

– Goethe

I don’t remember much from German class.

I think ziehen means to pull, and I remember

pulling on myself a lot in the bathroom

while picturing Gretchen Wagonseller 

who sat in the seat in front of me, her lovely

long blond hair falling eternally downward, 

her breathy, faltering voice conjugating ziehen 

for the whole class–ich ziehe, du ziehst, er zieht

which gave me a boner that I couldn’t very well 

pull on in German class. But I pulled on it very well

once I got to the bathroom, and I went on pulling

all that semester, and also the next. After graduating

I forgot almost all of my German, but I kept on

conjugating the verb of myself in a bathroom–

many bathrooms–for years. Decades. Even after

I got married–and not to Gretchen Wagonseller–

I never graduated from the pulling, or the trying 

to imagine das Ewig-Weibliche, the Eternal Feminine,

which I can’t quite imagine and can’t stop imagining–

my opus magnum. Deal with the devil indeed. 

Paul Hostovsky's poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, The FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer's Almanac, and Best American Poetry. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter. Website: