Friday, December 11, 2015

Two Poems by Tony Hoagland


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of Radio Shacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

And as I consider how to express how full of shit I think he is,
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds
Of the thick satin quilt of America

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,
Or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills
Spilling from his wounds, and—this is the weird part—

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which is when I knew it was a dream, since my dad
Would never speak in rhymed couplets,

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

What Narcissism Means to Me

There’s Socialism and Communism and Capitalism,
said Neal,
and there’s Feminism and Hedonism,
            and there’s Catholicism and Bi-pedalism and Consumerism,

but I think Narcissism is the system
that means the most to me;

and Sylvia said that in Neal’s case
narcissism represented a heroic achievement in positive thinking.

And Ann,
who calls everybody Sweetie pie
           whether she cares for them or not,

Ann lit a cigarette and said, Only miserable people will tell you
           that love has to be deserved,

and when I heard that, a distant chime went off for me,

remembering a time when I believed
                    that I could simply live without it.

Neal had grilled the corn and sliced the onions
                      into thick white disks,
                      and piled the wet green pickles
                                            up in stacks like coins
           and his chef’s cap was leaning sideways like a mushroom cloud.

Then Ethan said that in his opinion,
if you’re going to mess around with self-love
              you shouldn’t just rush into a relationship,

and Sylvia was weeping softly now, looking down
           into her wine cooler and potato chips,

and then the hamburgers were done, just as
the sunset in the background started
                      cutting through the charcoal clouds

exposing their insides – black,
streaked dark red,
                      like a slab of scorched, rare steak,

delicious but unhealthy,
or, depending on your perspective,
                                            unhealthy but delicious,

-- the way that, deep inside the misery
           of daily life,
                      love lies bleeding.

Tony Hoagland is the author of six books of poetry: Sweet Ruin (1992), Donkey Gospel (1998), What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), Rain (2005), Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010) and Application for Release from the Dream (2015). He has also published a collection of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun (2006). 

His poems have been published in various periodicals such as Poetry, American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Paris Review, TriQuarterly, Ploughshares, Harvard Review, New England Review, Indiana Review, and The Cortland Review. 

Hoagland’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He has received the O.B. Hardison Prize for Poetry and Teaching from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award and the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers (Poetry Foundation).

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