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.
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
down into the belly of the world.