Sunday, August 08, 2010

Your Sunday Poem

Tony Hoagland, a new (to me) poet, is described on the book jacket thusly: “It’s hard to imagine any aspect of contemporary American life that couldn’t make its way into the writing of Tony Hoagland or a word in common or formal usage he would shy away from. He is a poet of risk; he risks wild laughter in poems that are totallyheartfelt, poems you want to read out loud to anyone who needs to know the score and even more so to those who think they know the score. The framework of his writing is immense, almost as large as the tarnished nation he wandered into under the star of poetry.” And as a writer whose work is “Funny, combative, intimate, and public, these poems advocate that we must fight for clarity, reinvent our affections, and remain, as best we can, unincorporated.” From his new book of poems, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty.

Sentimental Education

And when we were eight, or nine,
our father took us back into the Alabama woods,
found a rotten log, and with his hunting knife

pried off a slab of bark
to show the hundred kinds of bugs and grubs
that we would have to eat in time of war.

“The ones who will survive,” he told us,
looking at us hard,
“are the ones who are willing to do anything.”
Then he popped one of those pale slugs
into his mouth and started chewing.

And that was Lesson Number 4
in The Green Beret Book of Childrearing.

I looked at my pale, scrawny, knock-kneed, bug-eyed brother,
who was identical to me,
and saw that, in a world that ate the weak,
we didn’t have a prayer,

and next thing I remember, I’m working for a living
at a boring job
that I’m afraid of losing,

with a wife whose lack of love for me
is like a lack of oxygen,
and this dead thing in my chest
that used to be my heart.

Oh, if he were alive, I would tell him, “Dad,
you were right! I ate a lot of stuff
far worse than bugs.”

And I was eaten, I was eaten,
I was picked up
and chewed
and swallowed

down into the belly of the world.


Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for this bit of brilliance--and for turning me on to a new poet. He's great.

Alon Perlman said...

Interesting, compelling, but I don't as much see the humor over the darkness.
Here is a link with another poem and his Bio

A different perspective from the MMI collective

Lesson Number Five

It was time to take them out again. Jr. just had his birthday. I'd set the traps the previous night. The temptation to pre-load them was hard to resist.

The older picked up slack
She will complain if they miss the school bus.
I'll have to get them back and changed.

“Make the woods your home” I said.
gesturing with the knife,
“you never know where your next meal will come from.”
Then I gutted the squirrel on the log, bearing down to separate the hind quarters.

Where will they get Lesson Number 6, if I have to ship out to the Vietnam police action?

I looked at the older; pale, scrawny, doe eyed, like their mother.
The other, no better.
I knew that without these lessons,
they didn’t stand a chance

The older will probably muck around, turn into a beatnik,
or get a liberal arts education.

This is a new generation, their counterparts
are not like the boys we sent to Europe
These winds of change
will tear this nation apart.

Oh, if I make it back, will they tell me, “Dad, you were right! We understand you now, and why you made us do it.”

And when I got back to base,
Papers were waiting.
next day
shipped at dawn.

What's a father to do?