Application for Release from the Dream

Application for Release from the Dream

by Tony Hoagland


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The eagerly awaited, brilliant, and engaging new poems by Tony Hoagland, author of What Narcissism Means to Me

The parade for the slain police officer

goes past the bakery

and the smell of fresh bread

makes the mourners salivate against their will.

—from "Note to Reality"

Are we corrupt or innocent, fragmented or whole? Are responsibility and freedom irreconcilable? Do we value memory or succumb to our forgetfulness? Application for Release from the Dream, Tony Hoagland's fifth collection of poems, pursues these questions with the hobnailed abandon of one who needs to know how a citizen of twenty-first-century America can stay human. With whiplash nerve and tender curiosity, Hoagland both surveys the damage and finds the wonder that makes living worthwhile. Mirthful, fearless, and precise, these poems are full of judgment and mercy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977184
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 09/01/2015
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 648,014
Product dimensions: 6.04(w) x 8.89(h) x 0.29(d)

About the Author

Tony Hoagland is the author of four previous poetry collections, including Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty and What Narcissism Means to Me, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also the author of two collections of essays, Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft. He has received the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, the Mark Twain Award from the Poetry Foundation, and the O. B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library. He teaches at the University of Houston and in the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Application for Release from the Dream


By Tony Hoagland

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2015 Tony Hoagland
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-908-9



    The Edge of the Frame
    Joseph Cornell collected souvenirs of places he was miserable in,
    which pretty much was everywhere he went.

    Churchill felt afraid on stairs. Terrible migraines
    of Virginia Woolf entered her skull and would not be evicted.

    I read biographies because I want to know how people suffered
    in the past; how they endured, and is it different, now, for us?

    This bright but gentle morning, like the light of childhood;
    then, because of the antidepressant, day by day,
        the gradual return of curiosity.

    What is a human being? What does it mean?

    It seems a crucial thing to know, but no one does.

    From my window, I can see the oak tree in whose shade
    the man from UPS parks his van at noon
            to eat his lunch and read the ads for Full Body Asian Massage.

    "You will conquer obstacles," that's what the fortune cookie
    first I crumpled it up, then went back later to retrieve it from
    the trash.

    Midnight, walking down Cerillos Avenue, alone,
    past the auto dealerships and thrift stores,
        past the vintage neon of the Geronimo Motel.

    Someone's up late, painting the inside of Ernie's Pizza Parlor,
    which will be opening in June.

    As I walk by, all I can see
    is the ladder, and two legs near the top, going out of sight.

    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.

    Ode to the Republic
    It's going to be so great when America is just a second fiddle
    and we stand on the sidelines and watch the big boys slug it

    Old men reading the Times on benches in Central Park
        will smile and say, "Let France take care of it."

    Farmers in South Carolina will have bumper stickers that read
    "One Nation, with Vegetables for All" and "USA:
          Numero Uno for Triple-A Tomatoes!"

    America, you big scary baby, didn't you know
        when you pounded your chest like that in public
        it just embarrassed us?

    When you lied to yourself on television,
        we looked down at our feet.

    When your left hand turned into a claw,
        when you hammered the little country down
        and sang the Pledge of Allegiance,

    I put on my new sunglasses
        and stared at the church across the street.

    I thought I had to go down with you,
        hating myself in red, white, and blue,

    learning to say "I'm sorry" in more and more foreign languages.

    But now at last the end of our dynasty has arrived
        and I feel humble and calm and curiously free.

    It's so good to be unimportant.

    It's nice to sit on the shore of the Potomac
        and watch Time take back half of everything.

    It's a relief to take the dog for a walk
        without frightening the neighbors.

    My country, 'tis of thee I sing:
        There are worse things than being second burrito,

    minor player, ex-bigshot, former VIP, drinking decaf
        in the nursing home for downsized superpowers.

    Like a Navajo wearing a cowboy hat, may you learn
        to handle history with irony.

    May you gaze into the looking-glass and see your doubleness
        — old blue eyes in a surprised brown face.

    May your women finally lay down
        the law: no more war on a school night.

    May your shame be cushioned by the oldest chemotherapy:
        stage after stage of acceptance.

    May someone learn to love you again.

    May you sit on the porch with the other countries
        in the late afternoon,
        and talk about chickens and rain.


    The attorney collects a fee of seven million
    for getting eighteen million back
    from the widow of the CEO
    whose corporation stole three billion
    from ten thousand
    stockholders and employees.

    She has to go down to one Mercedes
    and take driving lessons.

    The radio said expect delays,
    but five thousand years for justice
        still seems ridiculous.

    What I heard from behind me at the baseball game:
    "We can't see anything from here" —
        it seemed so true of us.

    The two young actresses flip a coin
    to see who will get to play the cancer patient
    because they know
    the worst fate makes the best role
    and that dying can be good for your career.

    One of them will go to Hollywood and be a star.

    The other will move to Cincinnati
    and take photos of her twins
    running back and forth through the sprinkler
        in shorts,
    soaking wet, shrieking with delight.

    Application for Release from the Dream
    This is my favorite kind of weather, this cloudy autumn-ness —
    when long wool coats make shoplifting easy,

    and you can see, in all the windows of the stores,
    the nipples of the mannequins pushing through their warm

    I keep the wise books on my shelves, and take them down to
    but I no longer believe in their power to transform.

    What is it? Maybe all the mystery anyone could want
    is trembling inside my abdomen already
    like the fine tremble of the filament inside a bulb.

    When I came to this place initially,
    I thought I would never be able to bear
        the false laughter and the lies, hearing

    the same stories told again and again
    with the same inflection, in the same words.

    But that is just an example of the kind of bad thoughts
        that sometimes visit me.

    Ten years after being cheated by Jim, of Jim's Bookstore,
    I still am angry, though I said nothing at the time.

    Outside, a faint mist falling from the low, steel-colored sky
    and the red light caught inside the strangely glowing trees.

    "Thank you for the honesty of being afraid," I say to myself out loud,
        "afraid of things you do not understand."

    Exhausted then, I fell asleep; but I awoke, knowing the rules.

    If you aren't learning, you have not been paying attention.

    If you have nothing to say, it is because your heart is closed.

    Wine Dark Sea

    "Wine dark sea — that's from Homer, you know,"
    said my father, about a book that I was reading
    called The Wine Dark Sea.

    I was furious at the old idiot
    for presuming that he might know something
    I didn't already understand.

    So I've grown up to be one of those people
    who gets angry at trees
    for behaving like trees,

    who kneels in hotel rooms and bangs his head
    softly against the carpet, asking for help,
    another kind of room service.

    I remember the time he told me he had read
    Don Quixote in the original French.
    When I wrecked the car it was him I called, collect.

    At Christmas I'll send him a case of grapefruit.
    When he dies, I'll fly to the funeral
    with a whole unpublished text inside me,
    which I'll quietly read en route,
    making certain overdue corrections.

    Looking out the window
    at the Old World
    passing below,
    as dark and unknown as the sea.

    The Hero's Journey

    I remember the first time I looked at the spotless marble floor of a giant
hotel lobby
    and understood that someone had waxed and polished it all night

    and that someone else had pushed his cart of cleaning supplies
    down the long air-conditioned corridors of the Steinberg
    Building across the street

    and emptied all two hundred and forty-three wastebaskets
        stopping now and then to scrape up chewing gum with a
        special flat-bladed tool
        he keeps in his back pocket.

    It tempered my enthusiasm for The Collected Letters of
    Henry James, Volume II

    and for Joseph Campbell's Journey of the Hero,

    Chapter 5, "The Test," in which he describes how the
    "tall and fair-complexioned" knight, Gawain,
        makes camp one night beside a cemetery

    but cannot sleep for all the voices rising up from down below —

    Let him stay out there a hundred nights,
        with his thin blanket and his cold armor and his
        useless sword,

    until he understands exactly how
    the glory of the protagonist is always paid for
        by a lot of minor characters.

    In the morning he will wake and gallop back to safety;
    he will hear his name embroidered into
        toasts and songs.

    But now he knows
        there is a country he had not accounted for,
        and that country has its citizens:

    the one-armed baker sweeping out his shop at 4 a.m.;

    the prisoner sweating in his narrow cell;

    and that woman in the nursing home,
        who has worked there for a thousand years,

    taking away the bedpans,
    lifting up and wiping off the soft heroic buttocks of Odysseus.

    Special Problems in Vocabulary

    There is no single particular noun
    for the way a friendship,
    stretched over time, grows thin,
    then one day snaps with a popping sound.

    No verb for accidentally
    breaking a thing
    while trying to get it open
    — a marriage, for example.

    No participial phrase for
    losing a book
    in the middle of reading it,
    and therefore never learning the end.

    There is no expression, in English, at least,
    for avoiding the sight
    of your own body in the mirror,
    for disliking the touch
    of the afternoon sun,
    for walking into the flatlands and dust
    that stretch out before you
    after your adventures are done.

    No adjective for gradually speaking less and less,
    because you have stopped being able
    to say the one thing that would
    break your life loose from its grip.

    Certainly no name that one can imagine
    for the aspen tree outside the kitchen window,
    its spade-shaped leaves
    spinning on their stems,
    working themselves into
    a pale-green, vegetable blur.

    No word for waking up one morning
    and looking around,
    because the mysterious spirit
    that drives all things
    seems to have returned,
    and is on your side again.

    Eventually the Topic

    The reality TV show brought together fat white Alabama policemen
        and African American families from Detroit
    to live together on a custom-made plantation for a month.
    America: stupidity plus enthusiasm is a special kind of genius.

    "When I was a child," says Kevin, "I spoke as a child, and I
    thought as a child,
    but now I am a man, and I have put away childish things."

    His wife doesn't think that St. Paul was talking about giving up

    The surgeons compare the human heart to an engine;
    the car mechanics compare the engine to a heart.

    The metaphor works for both of them,
    and it explains why one of the mechanics, Carl,
    has been asking the same woman out,
    and being refused, for fourteen years.

    This winter sky is flat, gray and stretches out forever,
    a pure performance of the verb to yearn.

    "Human beings weren't meant to live like this," said Aldous Huxley,
    but what did he mean by this? and how do you define meant?

    Eventually the topic turns out to be Time, Time and the self.

    It's about getting tempered, like a sword held in the fire.

    It's about getting cooked in the oven, like a loaf of bread.

    One day when the smoke clears,
    then, when that day comes, then —
    we will use the sword to cut the bread.

    Little Champion

    When I get hopeless about human life,
    which, to be frank, is far too difficult for me,
    I try to remember that in the desert there is
    a little butterfly that lives by drinking urine.

    And when I have to take the bus to work on Saturday,
    to spend an hour opening the mail,
    deciding what to keep and throw away,
    one piece at a time,
    I think of the butterfly following its animal around,
    through the morning and the night,
    fluttering, weaving sideways through
    the cactus and the rocks.

    And when I have to meet all Tuesday afternoon
    with the committee to discuss new by-laws,
    or listen to the dinner guest exhaustively describe
    his recipe for German beer,
    or hear the scholar tell, again,
    about her campaign to destroy, once and for all,
    the vocabulary of heteronormativity,
    I think of that tough little champion
    with orange and black markings on its wings
    resting in the shade beneath a ledge of rock
    while its animal sleeps nearby;
    and I see how the droplets hang and gleam among
    the thorns and drab green leaves of desert plants
    and how the butterfly alights and drinks from them
    deeply, with a stillness of utter concentration.



    Crazy Motherfucker Weather

    Taking the car out of the rental parking lot,
    almost getting fender-bendered by the guy in the BMW
    speaking capitalist Cro-Magnon into his cell phone;

    wondering whether the time has come
    to get a gun;
    already starting to look forward to my lethal injection —

    Or I hang up the phone
    in the middle of a conversation
    at the moment it no longer interests me,

    having reached some limit of what can be
    reasonably endured —
    What happens next?

    Am I entering the season of tantrums and denunciations?
    My crazy motherfucker weather?
    Will I be yelling at strangers on the plane,

    begging the radio for mercy,
    hammering the video rental machine
    to get my money back?

    Knowing it a sin to waste
    even a smidgen of this life
    under the blue authentic glory of the sky;

    wondering whether a third choice exists
    between resignation and
    going around the bend —

    Yet still the wild imperative of self:
    the sobbing sense that one has not been loved;
    the absolute demand for nothing less

    than transformation;
    the flaring force of this thing we call identity
    as if it were a message, a burning coal

    one carries in one's mouth for sixty years,
    for delivery
    to whom, exactly; to where?


    They took the old heart out of your chest,
    all blue and spoiled like a sick grapefruit,

    the way you removed your first wife from your life,
    and put a strong young blonde one in her place.

    What happened to the old heart is unrecorded,
    but the wife comes back sometimes in your dreams,

    vengeful and berating, shrill, with a hairdo orange as flame,
    like a mother who has forgotten that she loved you

    more than anything. How impossible it is to tell
    bravery from selfishness down here,

    the leap of faith from a doomed attempt at flight.
    What happened to the old heart is the scary part:

    thrown into the trash, and never seen again,
    but it persists. Now it's like a ghost,

    with its bloated purple face,
    moving through a world of ghosts

    that's all of us —
    dreaming we're alive, that we're in love forever.

    The Roman Empire

    The lady in the park ducks her head when passing me
    and veers a little to one side to keep from touching me.

    I understand. She only wants to get out of the park alive
    with her aging, high-strung Boston terrier,

    and I retract my flesh as much as possible
    to let her by. We know,

    each time a man and woman pass, each
    time a man and woman pass each

    time a man and woman pass
    each other on an empty street,

    it is an anniversary —
    as if history was a cake made from layer after layer

    of women's bodies, decorated with the purple, battered
    faces of dead girls.


Excerpted from Application for Release from the Dream by Tony Hoagland. Copyright © 2015 Tony Hoagland. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

A Little Consideration

The Edge of the Frame 5

Summer 6

Ode to the Republic 8

Proportion 10

Application for Release from the Dream 11

Wine Dark Sea 12

The Hero's Journey 13

Special Problems in Vocabulary 15

Eventually the Topic 17

Little Champion 18


Crazy Motherfucker Weather 21

Dreamheart 23

The Roman Empire 24

But the Men 25

Don't Tell Anyone 27

Bible Study 29

Misunderstandings 30

Introduction to Matter 31

The Social Life of Water 32

The Wetness 33

Romans 35


The Neglected Art of Description 39

Airport 41

A History of High Heels 42

A Little Consideration 43

Please Don't 44

Faulkner 46

Wasp 48

The Complex Sentence 49

Controlled Substances 50

WhiteWriter 52

Ship 53

Because It Is Houston, 54

Crossing Water 56

Update 58

The Edge of the Frame

Reasons to Be Happy 61

December, with Antlers 62

His Majesty 63

Western 65

Song for Picking Up 67

The Story of the Mexican Housekeeper 68

Coming and Going 71

Real Estate 72

Fetch 74

Summer Dusk 76

There Is No Word 77

Aubade 79

Note to Reality 80

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