Browsing Category "Poems"
8 Sep
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The Trouble with Tribes

The Change
by Tony Hoagland

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine.
In the park the daffodils came up
and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes–

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies,
and the new president proves that he’s a dummy.

But remember the tennis match we watched that year?
Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama,
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms,
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite–

We were just walking past the lounge
and got sucked in by the screen above the bar,
and pretty soon
we started to care about who won,

putting ourselves into each whacked return
as the volleys went back and forth and back
like some contest between
the old world and the new,

and you loved her complicated hair
and her to-hell-with-everybody stare,
and I,
I couldn’t help wanting
the white girl to come out on top,

because she was one of my kind, my tribe,
with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big
and so black,
so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation
down Abraham Lincoln’s throat,
like she wasn’t asking anyone’s permission.

There are moments when history
passes you so close
you can smell its breath,
you can reach your hand out
and touch it on its flank,

and I don’t watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre,
but I could feel the end of an era there

in front of those bleachers full of people
in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes

as that black girl wore down her opponent
then kicked her ass good
then thumped her once more for good measure

and stood up on the red clay court
holding her racket over her head like a guitar.

And the little pink judge
had to climb up on a box
to put the ribbon on her neck,

still managing to smile into the camera flash,
even though everything was changing

and in fact, everything had already changed–

Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged,
it was past us
and we were changed.


That’s right, Tony. Change happened — IS happening. And it’s GOOD. May you and your tribe be able to see that at last.

31 Aug
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Let Things Through

Endless Pools
by Mark Nepo

I am awake. It wasn’t always so.
It may not last for long. So let me
say this while my heart is beating like
a river. This life is more than we can
bear. It’s taken years to learn this, to
feel this, to know this in my bones. I’m
not talking about giving up or enduring.
I mean we’re not designed to bear it all.
Anymore than the sun bears the sky or
the wind bears the thousands of leaves
it moves through. We’re only meant to
let things through. I am awake. This time

I fell to it. I was productive. Some said on
fire. Then I tripped on something small.
Like a pebble in your shoe. And fell out
of the dance I had created. The one by
which I knew my worth. I couldn’t get
it back. It depressed me for months. But
like a whale I kept diving down and com-
ing up. Despite the parting of my dream.
Now I’m awake as I never imagined. This
doesn’t preclude pain or weather or dis-
appointment. These as well as joy land
in the lake-like depth that has held us since
birth. Come. Look. Like an endless pool
that clears after a violent rain, you can
see through me. I am awake. 

29 Aug
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Without Clinging

Impossible Dream
by Tony Hoagland

In Delaware a congressman
accused of sexual misconduct
says clearly at the press conference,
right into the microphone,
that he would like very much
to do it again.

It was on the radio
and Carla laughed
as she painted, Die, You Pig
in red nail polish
on the back of a turtle
she plans to turn loose tomorrow
in Jerry’s backyard.

We lived near the high school that year
and in the afternoons, in autumn,
you could hear the marching-band rehearsals
from the stadium:
off-key trumpets carried by the wind,
drums and weirdly smeared trombones:

a ragged “Louie Louie”
or sometimes, “The Impossible Dream.”

I was reading a book about pleasure,
how you have to glide through it
without clinging,
like an arrow
passing through a target,
coming out the other side and going on.

Sitting at the picnic table
carved with the initials of the previous tenants;
thin October sunlight
blessing the pale grass–
you would have said we had it all–

But the turtle in Carla’s hand
churned its odd, stiff legs like oars,
as if it wasn’t made for holding still,

and the high-school band played
worse than ever for a moment
–as if getting the song right
was the impossible dream.


Not impossible, Tony. Not easy, but not impossible.

16 Aug
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So Brutal and Alive

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

When my father worked on the Hubble Telescope, he said
They operated like surgeons: scrubbed and sheathed
In papery green, the room a clean cold, and bright white.

He’d read Larry Niven at home, and drink scotch on the rocks,
His eyes exhausted and pink. These were the Reagan years,
When we lived with our finger on The Button and struggled

To view our enemies as children. My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space. On the ground, we tied postcards to balloons
For peace. Prince Charles married Lady Di. Rock Hudson died.

We learned new words for things. The decade changed.

The first few pictures came back blurred, and I felt ashamed
For all the cheerful engineers, my father and his tribe. The second time,
The optics jibed. We saw to the edge of all there is —

So brutal and alive it seemed to comprehend us back.


(end of series)

15 Aug
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Or Does That End?

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

In those last scenes of Kubrick’s 2001
When Dave is whisked into the center of space,
Which unfurls in an aurora of orgasmic light
Before opening wide, like a jungle orchid
For a love-struck bee, then goes liquid,
Paint-in-water, and then gauze wafting out and off,
Before, finally, the night tide, luminescent
And vague, swirls in, and on and on…

In those last scenes, as he floats
Above Jupiter’s vast canyons and seas,
Over the lava strewn plains and mountains
Packed in ice, that whole time, he doesn’t blink.
In his little ship, blind to what he rides, whisked
Across the wide-screen of unparceled time,
Who knows what blazes thorough his mind?
Is it still his life he moves through, or does
That end at the end of what he can name?

On set, it’s shot after shot till Kubrick is happy,
Then the costumes go back on their racks
And the great gleaming set goes black.


(to be continued)

14 Aug
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The Frenzy of Being

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone,

That the others have come and gone — a momentary blip —

When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,

Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel

Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,

Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,

Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones

At whatever are their moons. They live wondering

If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know,

And the great black distance they — we — flicker in.

Maybe the dead know, their eyes widening at last,

Seeing the high beams of a million galaxies flick on

At twilight. Hearing the engines flare, the horns

Not letting up, the frenzy of being. I want it to be

One notch below bedlam, like a radio without a dial.

Wide open, so everything floods in at once.

And sealed tight, so nothing escapes. Not even time,

Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.

So that I might be sitting now beside my father

As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe

For the first time in the winter of 1959.


(to be continued)

11 Aug
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Toward God-Knows-Where

My God, It’s Full of Stars (continued)
by Tracy K. Smith

Charlton Heston is waiting to be let in. He asked once politely.
A second time with force from the diaphragm. The third time,
He did it like Moses: arms raised high, face an apocryphal white.

Shirt crisp, suit trim, he stoops a little coming in,
Then grows tall. He scans the room. He stands until I gesture,
Then he sits. Birds commence their evening chatter. Someone fires

Charcoals out below. He’ll take a whiskey if I have it. Water if I don’t.
I ask him to start from the beginning, but he goes only halfway back.
That was the future once, he says. Before the world went upside down.

Hero, surviver, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,

Then lets it go. For all I know, I was the last true man on this earth, And:
May I smoke? The voices outside soften. Planes jet past heading off or back.
Someone cries that she does not want to go to bed. Footsteps overhead.

A fountain in the neighbor’s yard babbles to itself, and the night air
Lifts the sound indoors. It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth

Toward God-knows-where? I think of Atlantis buried under ice, gone
One day from sight, the shore from which it rose now glacial and stark.
Our eyes adjust to the dark.


(to be continued)

10 Aug
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Some Like to Imagine…

My God, It’s Full of Stars
by Tracy K. Smith

We like to think of it as parallel to what we know,
Only bigger. One man against the authorities.
Or one man against a city of zombies. One man

Who is not, in fact, a man, sent to understand
The caravan of men now chasing him like red ants
Let loose down the pants of America. Man on the run.

Man with a ship to catch, a payload to drop,
This message going out to all of space… Though
Maybe it’s more like life below the sea: silent,

Buoyant, bizarrely benign. Relics
Of an outmoded design. Some like to image
A cosmic mother watching through a spray of stars,

Mouthing yes, yes as we toddle toward the light,
Biting her lip if we teeter at some ledge. Longing
To sweep us to her breast, she hopes for the best

While the father storms through adjacent rooms
Ranting with the force of Kingdom Come,
Not caring anymore what might snap us in its jaw.

Sometimes, what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.

The books have lived here all along, belonging
For weeks at a time to one or another in the brief sequence
Of family names, speaking (at night mostly) to a face,

A pair of eyes. The most remarkable lies.


(to be continued)

7 Aug
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Excuse Me for Interrupting…

I Confess
by Alison Luterman

I stalked her
in the grocery store: her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her
beaming peace like the North Star.
I wanted to ask, “What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years or how to live
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to
some knowledge that makes the earth turn and
burn on its axis–”
But we don’t request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, “I love your hair.” 

4 Aug
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by Tony Hoagland

The tourists are strolling down Alpine Street
hoping for a deal on hand-carved rocking chairs
or some bronze Kali Yuga earrings
from the local Yak Arts dealer.
It’s summer. No one needs therapy for now,
or a guide to the aesthetics of collage
–laughing as they walk past the acupuncture clinic,
and Orleans Fish and Chips,
then double back to the Omega store
to look more closely at those shoes.
People like to buy. They just do.
They like the green tissue paper.
They like extracting the card from its tight
prophylactic sheath, handing it over,
and getting it back.
They like to swing the bag when they stroll away.
They like to stash the box in the car.
A forty-year-old man stares at a wetsuit on the rack:
Is it too late in life to dress up like a seal and surf?
–as the beech tree in front of the courthouse suddenly
fluffs itself up and flutters,
and a woman with a henna rinse
holds a small glass vase up to the light
to see the tiny turquoise bubbles trapped inside.
As a child she felt a secret just inside her skin,
always on the brink of bursting out.
Now the secret is on the outside,
and she is hunting it.