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.

A poem for the first 30 years

The beginning of “Personal,” by Tony Hoagland.

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal–

the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,

the wet hair of women in the rain–
And I cursed what hurt me

and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.

And it only gets better.

Tony Hoagland’s ‘How It Adds Up’

Happiness, Joe says, is a wild red flower
plucked from a river of lava
and held aloft on a tightrope
strung between two scrawny trees
above a canyon
in a manic-depressive windstorm.

Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it–,

And when you do, you will keep looking for it
everywhere, for years,
while right behind you,
the footprints you are leaving

will look like notes
of a crazy song.

Full text.

To the jackass on the Route 50 on-ramp

You don’t seem to get the whole concept of yielding, or even slowing down at a blind corner to see if one should yield. You make me want to stand behind the waterfall from Mary Oliver’s “The Poet with His Face in His Hands” (deep in the April 4 New Yorker.) Next to the weeping poet there, I have less tearful and more annoyed things to say to you. If the poet is bothered — and having in his place before, I suspect he may be — I can wait until he is done. Your honk and hand-wave are enough to hold me in this mood a bit, and your bumper karma may do the job anyway.