Completely Subjective: Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris”

I would drown out everything going on in the world simply by plugging my headphones in and putting the volume on full blast. The train rocked back and forth, skidding to the occasional bumpy stop about every 20 minutes or so. I’d look out the window, constantly being reminded that after a week that felt like forever, I was finally able to go to my home away from home. Whether it was the town I had just moved away from that was located in an extremely rural but beautiful area, or the city, I was pleased to be going there. Both options were (and still are) very relaxing to me. Between the view of the trees among the lake right near the old town I had previously lived in, or the soaring skyscrapers and fuzzy lights of the city – these were both safe to me.


Barbara Hamby’s anthology, All-Night Lingo Tango, was published in February 2009. In the book, I stumbled across her poem “Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris” and found it very intriguing as it was something I can relate to.


Hamby had written the poem in whilst she was living in Paris with her husband, David Kirby, in in the fall of 2006. The poem contains images of people on a train, passing through multiple historical sites and shows us the absurdity of how we manage to ignore the past and continue on with our lives as if nothing ever happened. She mentioned that her apartment was near the Luxembourg Gardens, and how she and her husband would take walks there. She explained “it is a lovely place, but at the entrance we used, there is a plaque commemorating a Resistance fighter who was shot on that very spot by the Nazis. Here we were in this most civilized of cities – eating exquisite tarts and drinking wines far better than we deserved – and there were these constant reminders of the chaos that is always lurking.”


This gave me the idea that society in itself has slowly become very shallow and narrow-minded. In the poem, the speaker can hear a group of girls on the train talking about possible hairdos, and if bangs will make them look too “dykey”, or how someone they know is a “whore”. As they are discussing this, they are crossing through the Drancy train station, where Jewish people were rounded up by Nazis before being sent off to concentration camps during the Holocaust. But none of these girls take a moment to consider or talk about that — and I don’t believe that most people generally would. So it raises the question of should we?


After leaving school and going to my escape every Friday afternoon, my head was filled with extremely insignificant thoughts of the people and things I was surrounded by during the week, and how the reason I was even on this train in the first place was to get away from it all. I was so in my own mind that I had never stopped to think about the history behind where I was going. I was in my own blissful state of mind because that was what was comfortable for me.


Hamby makes many great points in her poem, but there was one that really stood out to me. She questions, “If we knew what the years held, would we alter our choices, take the train at three-twenty instead of noon, walk in the rain instead of taking the Métro?” I think this is something to be thought about. Would we alter any of our choices if we had focused more on the past?


Either way, the group of girls on the train in Hamby’s poem were in the same state of mind as I was, and as most other people in the world. Solely thinking about ourselves, we continued on with our lives. I suppose you aren’t supposed to wallow in the past of other people, and especially of things that have happened years ago, but are we disrespecting it? There’s a fine line between moving forward and honoring the past or straight up disregarding it.


I was in a safe state of mind, going to my safe place. And I could probably guarantee that not one person on any of these trains was thinking about the historical significance of everything they were surrounded by because that’s not in our comfort zone. Thinking about it would require something out of us. We would need to be more open minded, and that is something we, as a society, struggle with.


This poem brings up the issue of how bizarre it is that society just continues on every day after all of these major historical events have gone down. Especially being in a place with so much history, people use it to their advantage as tourists rather than honoring and respecting what once was happening at the very same place. These girls the speaker is overhearing on the train seem very shallow – and it is not at all inaccurate to the way most people are in the present day. We are talking about other people and things that in the grand scheme of things have no importance, while being in such a place with hundreds of thousands of years of history to talk about. These girls are completely oblivious because they choose to be. So am I.


A majority of people never have stopped to think about this. Although my safe space was comforting to me, was it ever safe for other people?

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