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You Can't Go Back, Exactly

(Revised, expanded edition)

by Louis Daniel Brodsky


My Friend

I’ve been back in sweltering St. Louis
Less than one day,
And yet I'm already homesick

For that storied North Woods refuge
On the shores of Lake Nebagamon:
The boys' camp where I spent my youth,

Learning to find my identity,
Define my inchoate sensibility,
My place in the world, amidst pines and kids.

Tonight, sitting by myself at dinner,
I cast back over fifty years,
To that happy, imaginative, rambunctious child,

Who grew toward manhood, then veered,
Defying the laws of maturity,
Arriving at sixty-two sporting a splendid naiveté.

My scrapbooks and my spirit
Are filled with those green, golden summer days,
Which made of my heart a poet,

Who, at ten, fifteen, twenty-one,
Touched the sky, the northern lights,
Drank inspiration from the lake's crystal breath,

And never left those sacred woods.
Tonight, I know that as old as my soul is,
That boy is still my friend.

Use the player below to listen to Louis Daniel Brodsky read this poem.



Winner of the 2004 Best Book of Poetry Award from the Center for Great Lakes Culture at Michigan State University


Recapturing the freshness of youthful summers in Wisconsin, at Camp Nebagamon for Boys, the poet writes with gentle tenderness of a father's love of his son, of the strength of friendship, and of the resonance of memory and time.


In You Can't Go Back, Exactly, Louis Daniel Brodsky shows us, with delight and poignancy, how "a few of Earth's miracles work." While we never may be able to go back, exactly, we have the good fortune, through Mr. Brodsky's great skill in measuring the distances between past and present "with metaphor and rhyme-chime," to have, for a moment, a fleeting glimpse of a lake cabin's screen door kept "from closing, forever," while the deepest wisdom of the heart is ". . . forever in the dripping sunset's net." The father knows that the ritual he initiates in bringing his son to camp "Contains the same words and phrases / The Lord spoke to Abraham about Isaac," while the poet celebrates a return to "this sacred place" where the beauty of the ephemeral and the wonder of the eternal become one.
— Darlene Mathis-Eddy, former poetry editor for Ball State University's Forum


Louis Daniel Brodsky's You Can't Go Back, Exactly is, on the surface (and suitably to many readers perhaps) a bright, robust, happy (and sometimes poignant) communion with nature. Its setting is the classic camping trip of youth, with all the memorable experiences of campground fellowship. Beneath the experiences, however, are deeper, mystical layers of meaning — of life and experience — revealed to the reader in relation to his own experiences of youth and its unfolding awareness.
— Charles Guenther, book reviewer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch


These poems are about a boys' summer camp: a difficult subject whether the poet is indulging his own memories of life at such a camp years ago or thinking of his son's experience there. But many of the poems come off well. "Counselors' Night Off," "Male Bonding," "C.N.O.C.," and "Walt Whitman in the Land of Paul Bunyan," for example, are well handled. "A Grieving Rain" is particularly good: the emotion is evoked but it is controlled and the poem makes its point.

I have read these poems with very real enjoyment.
— Cleanth Brooks, coauthor (with Robert Penn Warren) of Understanding Poetry

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