Sunday Jul 14

hoaglandTony Tony Hoagland is the author of five volumes of poetry: Application for Release from the Dream (Fall 2015); Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty; Sweet Ruin, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; and What Narcissism Means to Me, all from Graywolf Press. He is also the author of two collections of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun and Twenty Poems That Could Save America, as well as the chapbook Don’t Tell Anyone. Hoagland currently teaches in the poetry program at the University of Houston.


The Cult of the Beloved

Seeing that the cult of the beloved has declined in our time,
I wonder if I can begin to revive it
with the image of Kath
lugging clothes downstairs at two AM
in a blue plastic laundry basket

with a jug of allergy free detergent. Then her sitting
in the apartment complex laundry room,
with her ziplock bag of quarters
and a copy of Anna Karenina,

watching the clothes be interrogated and punished
for the crime of collecting dirt,
while I fall more and more in love with her,
for her unhysterical fidelity to a program of pragmatic realism
in our apparently post-romantic lives.

She is so courageous! As winter comes to Iowa
and our ship pushes through the ice-pack
of certain difficult days
she'll guide us forward safely
through rent checks and vaccinations

and when the spring arrives,
and the marching bands wake us up at dawn
with their horrible pregame drumming
we will remember they too have a cult
that keeps them moving forward

even after their team loses
and the drunken fans keep everyone awake at night
because they are simply celebrating
having someone to make noise with
and something worth being passionate about.

The Art of Memoir

"I remember when I wrote my first memoir.
I was ancient—almost seventeen.
I didn't realize then that that memoir was only
scratching the surface of the story
that would become my second memoir.
In that sense, I confess, my second memoir is really my first."

My third memoir is entirely based on a single extended moment
I had with the cashier in a Petco Store, him talking and distracting me
with what seemed at the time inappropriate friendliness,
—you know what I mean,—

while I was thinking only about getting this fifty-pound sack of dog-food
into the trunk of my station wagon,
—the cashier, whose name was Brad, a former defense contractor
he had an overwhelming need
to tell me all about a moment of truth he had had one morning
in the men's room mirror of the Pentagon.
Yeah, that was my second memoir.
but I don't want to go on—that story is so well known.

The dew on the side of a glass of straw-colored ale;
robin's song, as I hear it split into many small squares
by the mesh on the window screen;
the curly hair of a redhead in front of me
at a nostalgia showing of Young Frankenstein in 2011;
the look in the dog's eyes when she wants something but cannot speak.
—all these things come to mind
when I think about my fourth memoir.

My fifth memoir? Thank you for asking.
It is about a lot of things that did not come to pass,
and my surprise and disappointment
and then the saga of my recovery
when they did not happen.
Though I am not formally religious, I believe it has a Catholic slant.
This forthcoming memoir is a preview
of some—let's just call them things—I have not written yet.
Here on the edge of the cliff--which, I have discovered,
is also a threshold,—I am very excited.

Love Letter

"Love me better, or go to hell!"
To me this seems like an entirely reasonable thing to say.

It is a phrase that comes without effort to my lips at almost any time of day,
and I could write a few letters in that spirit right now

and wake up tomorrow with a life
much less cluttered than it was before

with the cumbersome freight
of family and friends.

But tell me, when the anesthetic wears off  
and I come down from my manic little high,

will my life look like a bloodless hand
with several chopped-off fingers?

and then the beep beep beep
of the regret-truck backing up

and the uneasy feeling that I have performed
this kind of amputation in the past?

Is it becoming inevitable now, near the end of my life,
that I shall be alone, like some kind of ragged Taliban

hiding in a cave, getting nostalgic about my old jihad,
while listening to a BBC radio program about gardening?

But you cannot wait to understand what you are doing
before doing it—

cannot become so careful that you never say the truth.
It is a privilege and an exhilaration

afforded only for a brief time to the living
to make impetuous verbal mistakes.

And so I climb up on my chair right now
to tell every one of you— "Love me better or go to hell!"

Love me better, or go to hell!

Evening of Isms

We were talking about the jobs we worked when we were young,
before we had a choice,
how rotten the bosses, and the wage,
—and that was the Marxist portion of the evening.

Then we got onto Roger's mom,
of whom he said it was no accident she moved to Florida,
a climactic zone well-suited for parasitic plants,
and that was a gust of Freudian perspective.

"That it is all change," Pamela was saying
when I turned my head,
"our bodies and emotions embroiled in a storm
of constant and often unpleasant transformation"
—It was as if Pamela were working
for the Buddhism Corporation
and was delivering a message from her sponsor.

"Fragmentation," I was thinking
"That is what the Bible means by fall—
we fell, each of us broke into these lonely sparks;
each of us cast out into the pain of incompletion,
for which we believe ourselves at fault."

After coffee and dessert we cleared the table
and washed and put away the plates and silverware,
and wrapped the food and swept the floors
with such thoroughness, we might have been
practitioners of some ultra-hygienic communalism.

Then each of us went out to our separate cars,
informed by our faith in technology
and our unexamined belief in
                               self interested individualism.

We had visited so many isms, we were exhausted,
but none of them exactly fit the longing
that we are haunted by

for that thing called home
to which we were theoretically going.