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Best Famous Tony Hoagland Poems

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Written by Tony Hoagland | Create an image from this poem

Why the Young Men Are So Ugly

 They have little tractors in their blood
and all day the tractors climb up and down
inside their arms and legs, their
collarbones and heads.
That is why they yell and scream and slam the barbells down into their clanking slots, making the metal ring like sledgehammers on iron, like dungeon prisoners rattling their chains.
That is why they shriek their tires at the stopsign, why they turn the base up on the stereo until it shakes the traffic light, until it dryhumps the eardrum of the crossing guard.
Testosterone is a drug, and they say No, No, No until they are overwhelmed and punch their buddy in the face for joy, or make a joke about gravy and bottomless holes to a middle-aged waitress who is gently setting down the plate in front of them.
If they are grotesque, if what they say and do is often nothing more than a kind of psychopathic fart, it is only because of the tractors, the tractors in their blood, revving their engines, chewing up the turf inside their arteries and veins It is the testosterone tractor constantly climbing the mudhill of the world and dragging the young man behind it by a chain around his leg.
In the stink and the noise, in the clouds of filthy exhaust is where they live.
It is the tractors that make them what they are.
While they make being a man look like a disease.

Written by Tony Hoagland | Create an image from this poem

Reading Moby-Dick at 30000 Feet

 At this height, Kansas
is just a concept,
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section
of my neighbor's travel magazine.
At this stage of the journey I would estimate the distance between myself and my own feelings is roughly the same as the mileage from Seattle to New York, so I can lean back into the upholstered interval between Muzak and lunch, a little bored, a little old and strange.
I remember, as a dreamy backyard kind of kid, tilting up my head to watch those planes engrave the sky in lines so steady and so straight they implied the enormous concentration of good men, but now my eyes flicker from the in-flight movie to the stewardess's pantyline, then back into my book, where men throw harpoons at something much bigger and probably better than themselves, wanting to kill it, wanting to see great clouds of blood erupt to prove that they exist.
Imagine being born and growing up, rushing through the world for sixty years at unimaginable speeds.
Imagine a century like a room so large, a corridor so long you could travel for a lifetime and never find the door, until you had forgotten that such a thing as doors exist.
Better to be on board the Pequod, with a mad one-legged captain living for revenge.
Better to feel the salt wind spitting in your face, to hold your sharpened weapon high, to see the glisten of the beast beneath the waves.
What a relief it would be to hear someone in the crew cry out like a gull, Oh Captain, Captain! Where are we going now?
Written by Tony Hoagland | Create an image from this poem


 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 gray cloud between her legs.
Some nights, sitting by 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 I held her dripping wet 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 was the ancient irresistible 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.
Written by Tony Hoagland | Create an image from this poem


 Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object with a second person pronoun named Phil, and when she walks into the room, everybody turns: some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious, and the bees, if they were here, would buzz suspiciously around her hair, looking for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume of fermenting joy, we've all tried to start a fire, and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us most able to bear the idea of her own beauty, and when we see it, what we do is natural: we take our burned hands out of our pockets, and clap.
Written by Tony Hoagland | Create an image from this poem


 Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
The big sky river rushes overhead, bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish and old space suits with skeletons inside.
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness, and it is good, a way of letting life out of the box, uncapping the bottle to let the effervescence gush through the narrow, usually constricted neck.
And now the crickets plug in their appliances in unison, and then the fireflies flash dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex someone is telling in the dark, though no one really hears.
We gaze into the night as if remembering the bright unbroken planet we once came from, to which we will never be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.