Poem for the Twentieth Century
Saturday, December 25, 1999
Listen

Well, Twentieth Century -
Mind if I call you Twent?
Pretty soon the time will come
When you'll have come and went.

You gave us airplanes, railroad trains,
Larger and larger cars -
An era of progress. Couldn't you spell
That without any wars?

You don't exactly have a right
To go out smiling, darlin'.
You gave us Louis Armstrong, true,
But also Josef Stalin.

No one could love you absolutely -
Centuries don't have mothers,
But you've been a better century
Than several of the others.

You gave us cures for many diseases.
For that we give you credit.
You gave us Proust's great masterpiece;
Ten living people have read it.

Which is a shame, you know - to give us
All those modern books,
Then make us all post-modern, so that
No one reads, just looks.

Well, you gave us the blues. And hey:
The Twentieth Century rocks!
You gave us the movies. (What is to become
Of Twentieth Century Fox?)

You gave us television. Well...
Tell me, did you hafta
Give us all those talking heads
Who hold forth on, like, NAFTA?

Who wants to watch as each one takes
Sound bites, and chews and chews?
Who are these guys? For instance, who
Anointed Chris Matthews?

You gave us Prairie Home Companion,
That's been quite the thing.
Who knew? So many ethnic groups
And every one can sing!

You gave us Proust's great masterpiece,
Called... I can't remember.
At least I know what today's date is.
The Somethingth of December,

Nineteen and Ninety Nine, by cracky.
Who'd have every thought
That all those high and mighty nines
Would each one come to naught.

Maybe they won't, computers won't let 'em -
They'll plunge us into doubt
As to whether the Twentieth Century
Will ever let us out.

If so, it'll be sort of awkward, I guess,
After all these long good-byes.
We'll sit around groping for something to say -
Certainly not, "Time flies."

But no, Old Twent, we'll count you out.
A century's only a number.
And whatever the Twenty-First is like -
No likely any dumber -

It's bound to be a century
When who knows what will happen.
Grownups may grow misty over
Days when kids were rappin'.

Cellphones may become as slim,
And old, as cellophane.
NASDAQ and the Dow may just
Inevitably gain.

Something may make the microchip
Look like the catapult.
At Twenty-one, will Western Civ
At last become adult?

Next century we - or Eastern Civ
Will colonize the moon.
And come to think of it, I'll expire.
Ideally, no time soon,

But still, what rocket scientist
Came up with that idea?
Do we really need a century
That's so much younger than we ah?

You and I have memories
And - oh, and did I mention
You gave us Proust's great masterpiece? --
You made us pay attention.

Were you a perfect century?
Aw heck, that question's moot.
You'll always be my century - get out
Of here, you old galoot.

 

(c) 1999 by Roy Blount, Jr.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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