Making my Fourth: ‘America’ by Tony Hoagland

The Poetry Foundation’s daily feed has made me quickly, recently fall deep into the works of Tony Hoagland. I’ve posted a few of his poems in this blog already, and believe me, many more are bookmarked.

Today’s poem squarely connects with where my mind has been this afternoon. On my mind, in broadening circles… Memorial Day honors those we’ve lost in battle. Veterans Day honors those who’ve served. Labor Day honors all those who work. Thanksgiving, when you think about it, honors the land. And the Fourth of July, almost a pair with Thanksgiving, honors our life on the land. Thanksgiving is where we are. The Fourth of July is about who we are and what we do here.

Citizens, not subjects, indeed…

So, good for Hoagland for making that point in a way that couldn’t be more indirect. He takes the hard way to explain that as complicated, convoluted, comfortable, and challenging as the United States may be today, it is still our country, our responsibility and our opportunity.

The opening stanzas lay out the challenge of our American success:

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 RadioShacks 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

Read the full poem here. There is no resolution — only possibility. But that’s fine with me and hopefully you. That’s how we’ve come this far.

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