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.
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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 PressCopyright © 2015 Tony Hoagland
All rights reserved.
A LITTLE CONSIDERATION
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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Table of Contents
A Little Consideration
The Edge of the Frame 5
Ode to the Republic 8
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
The Roman Empire 24
But the Men 25
Don't Tell Anyone 27
Bible Study 29
Introduction to Matter 31
The Social Life of Water 32
The Wetness 33
The Neglected Art of Description 39
A History of High Heels 42
A Little Consideration 43
Please Don't 44
The Complex Sentence 49
Controlled Substances 50
Because It Is Houston, 54
Crossing Water 56
The Edge of the Frame
Reasons to Be Happy 61
December, with Antlers 62
His Majesty 63
Song for Picking Up 67
The Story of the Mexican Housekeeper 68
Coming and Going 71
Real Estate 72
Summer Dusk 76
There Is No Word 77
Note to Reality 80