I come from a long line of undependable persons, who did not know themselves, yet nonetheless did their best at living and dying. For awhile Ani di Franco was reading my poems at her concerts — that was thrilling, but it doesn't happen anymore. Teaching writers, young and otherwise, is my joy, my livelihood, and the evidence I would offer god to justify my sixty years of using oxygen. One of my books of essays on poetry, Real Sofistakashun, is one of the best contemporary craft books for bright amateurs, like us.
Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says America is for him a maximum-security prison whose walls
Are made of Radio Shacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can't tell the show from the commercials;
And as I contemplate 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 ball peen hammers, even then he feels
Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds
Of the thick satin quilt of America.
And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,
or whether he is just spin-doctoring a better grade,
And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money
That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills
Spilling from his wounds, and, —this is the funny part—,
He gasped, "Thank God—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—
And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty"—
Which is when I knew it was a dream, since my dad
Would never speak in rhymed couplets
And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, "I am asleep in America too,
And I don't know how to wake myself either"
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:
"I was listening to the cries of the past,
when I should have been listening to the cries of the future."
But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be
When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river
Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters
And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?
-first published in American Poetry Review.
©2016 Tony Hoagland
©2016 Tony Hoagland