The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore by Austin Davis is a reckoning of youth, nostalgic for a childhood it recognizes as imperfect. At nineteen, the speaker is keenly aware of their hard-to-define age, opening the first poem of the collection with the lines:
We’re only 19 – 7 years older than we should be and 7 years younger than we have to be, (“A Trip Back Home”).
It’s an age of transition, somewhere between childhood and adulthood, on the blurry path to independence.
There’s a genuine regret at the prospect of growing older, and the collection—at first—seems to wish time would stop or possibly even reverse. “Acid Trip” succinctly exemplifies this notion:
make the years in my skin melt past our mattress into a puddle of wrinkles and hair; bruises and scars.
Davis uses pop culture anecdotes—Daffy Duck, The Tale of Despereaux, Superman—as touchstones to evoke a shared sense of childhood with the reader, transforming the speaker’s personal reflections into something more universal. He also imbues the collection with a fantastical, almost child-like imagination as he winds the concept of outer space into many of the poems, making the far distance of immediate consideration to the speaker.
But then the speaker’s observations complicate the nostalgia as the collection delves into the roots of toxic masculinity. In “The Hole,” the speaker recounts the abuse “the little boy [they] used to know” suffered, his violent actions at a birthday party, and the angry, threatening man he became. And the poem “Words From a Student,” which examines the collective terror a generation shares of school shootings, adds to the depiction of childhood as a truly vulnerable time where children are left with few defenses.
The World Isn’t the Size of Our Neighborhood Anymore rounds out its nuanced take on youth with the final poem, “Summer’s Over.” As “the swimsuits are drying / on the porch swing,” the speaker acknowledges that it isn’t only the end of this summer but of all summers, that they’ve swam in the lake for the last time. It’s the end of this age of transition, a goodbye to growing up and all the growing pains that come with it.