Literary Hook: Remembering Woodstock–a rite of passage

By Christine Swanberg
Author and Poet

“Woodstock” took place in 1969. I went. Yep. I hopped into a painted van, drove the Pennsylvania Turnpike with kindred spirits, and landed in the muddy orchards of Woodstock, N.Y. It rained and rained.

Last year, I finally wrote a commemorative poem about that experience. It was the 1960s then. I’m 60 now. Seems like a good time to publish it. Those of you who lived through those tumultuous times remember them fondly, and like me, are probably glad they are over. The iconoclastic headiness of that era culminated at Woodstock, but the culture clearly changed during that era.

Woodstock: Forty Years Later

We wandered far from flimsy, free love fantasies,
far from our deluded Dionysian debacle,
far from the Merry Pranksters and paisley buses,
so far from the Magical Mystery Tour;
slapped into the slippery muddy slopes of real life.
Oh, but what a rite of passage—
that great white walrus of Woodstock.

What I remember most was rain and mud,
walking in the muck uphill, pilgrims plopping onward
for a glimpse of freshly-minted saints and Sirens:
the major arcane of musicians, ghosts of Woodstock past.
Pilgrims love their martyrs though we didn’t know it then,
walking the counter culture via dolorosa barefoot,
lured and charmed by our branded saints and Sirens.

But after the Siren songs and freak rains sent
us blowin’ in the wind, where’s home?
What happens after such a grand Chautauqua?
Where do revelers of revival and revision go?
Some wandered the desert, foraging every new manna
delivered by ever-darkening gods,
every new high, finally reaching ecstasy or death.

Some stayed in communes, like promiscuous monks
practicing vegetarianism and free love.
Some became able to do much of nothing.
Gurus grew like grapes. Mantras spiraled like vines.
Some still went to Vietnam, Canada or jail.
Some marched until Vietnam collapsed. Most of us moved
on into a changed world, and tried to make our way in it.
Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet.

From the Aug. 18-24, 2010 issue

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