After the nature documentary we walk down Canyon Road,
into the plaza of art galleries and high end clothing stores
where the mock orange is fragrant in the summer night
and the smooth adobe walls glow fleshlike in the dark.
It is just our second date, and we sit down on a rock,
holding hands, not looking at eachother,
and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved
and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.
If she were a female walkingstick bug she might
insert her hypodermic probiscus delicately into my neck
and inject me with a rich hormonal sedative
before attaching her egg sac to my thoracic undercarriage,
and if I were a young chimpanzee I would break off a nearby treelimb
and smash all the windows in the plaza jewelry stores.
And if she was a Brazillian leopardfrog she would wrap her impressive
tongue three times around my right thigh and
pummell me lightly against the surface of our pond
and I would know her feelings were sincere.
Instead we sit awhile in silence, until
she remarks that in the relative context of tortoises and iguanas,
human males seem to be actually rather expressive.
And I say that female crocodiles really don’t receive
enough credit for their gentleness.
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go
to get some ice cream cones and eat them.
After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
then I understood: there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,
nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people
quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers.
You can’t keep beating yourself up, Billy
I heard the therapist say on television
to the teenage murderer,
About all those people you killed--
You just have to be the best person you can be,
one day at a time -
and everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little,
because the level of deep feeling has been touched,
and they want to believe that
that the power of Forgiveness is greater
than the power of Consequence, or History.
My father is a businessman who travels.
Each time he returns from one of his trips,
his shoes and trousers
are covered with blood-
but he never forgets to bring me a nice present;
Should I say something?
I used to think I was not part of this,
that I could mind my own business and get along,
but that was just another song
that had been taught to me since birth-
whose words I was humming under my breath,
as I was walking thorough the Springdale Mall.
If you are lucky in this life
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.
Into the big enamel tub,
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton she had become.
Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed grey cloud
between her legs.
Some nights beside her bed,
book open in my lap,
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,
amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.
And once, after her bath,
I held her dripping in the uncomfortable
air between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child to stop,
an act of cruelty
which we both understood
as the ancient, irresistable rejoicing
of power over weakness.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy
because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.
If I Stay in Santa Fe
If I stay in Santa Fe,
I think I will end up with a red string knotted to my wrist,
tied there by a Tibetan rimpoche,
as a means of proving that I am holy.
If I stay, I know I shall require a profession:
becoming an apprentice, in succession, for jobs
as a woodworker, a shiatsu masseuse,
a permaculture expert, a hospice volunteer.
and a Better-Dream facilitator.
If I stay in Santa Fe, the chances are good that
I will finally take the tango lessons
my first two wives wanted me to take,
and I will look fucking fantastic on the dance floor,
--my body tilted like a French accent,
my forearm displaying the tattoo I got
soon after I met wife #3, to cover up the tattoo I got with wife #2.
If I stay in Santa Fe, I will have to be on guard,
knowing that I am susceptible
to the rhetoric of transformation
in the way that certain other people are susceptible
to summer colds or lung infections,
and if I stay in Santa Fe,
I know I might be tempted
to change my name to Diego or Joaquin,
to qualify for the arts grant from the Heritage Council
--but on the other hand, why not?
But if I stay in Santa Fe, I wonder
if I will become shallow, or predatory?
Will I haunt the gallery openings on Canyon Road
in a black silk shirt and gold earring,
filling my mouth with white wine and canapés
while chatting up the divorcees,
and trying to read the aura of their stock portfolios?
Will I glance in the mirror one night in my apartment
and burst into tears because
I look like an ad for a tequila company,
with my little goatee and skinny ponytail?
and my line about living for bliss,
which was the embarrassing hypothesis
of a younger man who did not know himself
in the way I hope I will know myself
someday, if I stay in Santa Fe.
All I remember from that party
is the little black dress of the hostess
held up by nothing more
than a shoestring of raw silk
that kept slipping off her shoulder
—so the whole time she was talking to you
about real estate or vinaigrette,
you would watch it gradually
slide down her satiny arm
until the very last moment
when she shrugged it back in place again.
Oh the business of that dress
was non-specific and unspeakable,
and it troubled all of us
like the boundary of a disputed territory
or the edge of a borderline personality.
It was like a story you wanted to see
brought to a conclusion, but
it was also like a story stuck
in the middle of itself, as it kept on
almost happening, but not,
then almost happening again--
It took all night for me to understand
the dress was designed to fail like that;
the hostess was designed to keep it up,
as we were designated to chew
the small rectangles of food
they serve at such affairs, and to salivate
while the night moved us around in its mouth.
This is the way in which parties
are dreamlike, duplicitous places
where you hang in a kind of suspense
between the real and the pretended.
All I remember from that night
is that I had come for a mysterious reason,
which I waited to see revealed.
And that, by the end of the evening,
I had found my disappointment,
which I hoped no one else had seen.
Tony Hoagland's fifth and most recent book of poems, Application for Release from the Dream, was published by Graywolf Press in 2015. His next collection, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, is scheduled for publication in 2018. His collaboration with Martin Shaw of translations from Anglo Saxon and Celtic literature, titled Rough Gods, will be published in 2018. He has published two collections of essays about poetry. He has received the James Laughlin Award, Mark Twain Award from the Poetry Foundation, the Jackson Poetry Prize, and the O.B.Hardisson Prize for teaching. He teaches at the University of Houston and elsewhere, and lives whenever he can in Santa Fe with his partner, the writer Kathleen Lee.