Tony Hoagland's Totally

Posted by jdg | 10:13 AM | , ,

When I was on the staff of my high school literary journal, the faculty adviser brought in a copy of a journal from a local college (cryptically titled "The Cauldron") for inspiration. Inside I found this piece by the poet Tony Hoagland, and I made a photocopy that I kept all through college. My parents recently made me clean out a storage locker where they'd stuffed all my old things, and I came across that old photocopy of this lovely poem. I read it every November. And there's no better time to share it with you.

Totally

I'm raking leaves and singing in my off-key voice
a mangled version of Madonna's "Like a Virgin,"
a song I thought I hated;

that's how it goes when your head and heart
are in different time zones--
you often don't find out till tomorrow
what you felt today.

I know I do not understand the principles
of leaf removal; I pile them up
in glowing heaps of cadmium and orange,

but I identify so much more
with the entropic gusts of wind
that knock them all apart again.
Is it natural to be scattered?

When I look to the sky I am often dreaming
of a television program that I saw some months ago;
when I walk into a dinner party

I am thinking of the book I mean to read when I get home--you might say
my here is disconnected to my now,
so never am I entirely anywhere,

or anyone. But I won't speak cruelly
of myself: this dividedness is just what
makes our species great: possible for Darwin

to figure out his theory of selection
while playing five-card stud,
for surgeon Keats to find a perfect rhyme

wrist-deep in the disorder
of an open abdomen

For example, it is autumn here.
The defoliated trees look frightened
at the edge of town,

as if the train they missed
had taken all their clothes.
The whole world in unison is turning
toward a zone of nakedness and cold.

But me, I have this strange conviction
that I am going to be born.


[also published in Donkey Gospel (1998)]


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