By Tony Hoagland b. 1953 Tony Hoagland
When a beautiful woman wakes up,
she checks to see if her beauty is still there.   
When a sick person wakes up,
he checks to see if he continues to be sick.

He takes the first pills in a thirty-pill day,   
looks out the window at a sky
where a time-release sun is crawling   
through the milky X ray of a cloud.

   * * * * *

I sing the body like a burnt-out fuse box,   
the wires crossed, the panel lit
by red malfunction lights, the pistons firing   
out of sequence,
the warning sirens blatting in the empty halls,

and the hero is trapped in a traffic jam,   
the message doesn’t reach its destination,   
the angel falls down into the body of a dog   
and is speechless,

tearing at itself with fast white teeth;   
and the consciousness twists evasively,   
like a sheet of paper,
       traveled by blue tongues of flame.

   * * * * *

In the famous painting, the saint   
looks steadfastly heavenward,
             away from the physical indignity below,

the fascinating spectacle
    of his own body
                     bristling with arrows;
he looks up
as if he were already adamantly elsewhere,   
    exerting that power of denial
         the soul is famous for,
that ability to say, “None of this is real:

Nothing that happened here on earth
and who I thought I was,
and nothing that I did or that was done to me,   
was ever real.”

Tony Hoagland, “Arrows” from Donkey Gospel. Copyright © 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota,

Source: Donkey Gospel (1998)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Tony Hoagland b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Health & Illness, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Tony  Hoagland


Tony Hoagland was born in 1953 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Arizona. Hoagland’s poetry is known for its acerbic, witty take on contemporary life and “straight talk,” in the words of New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner, who continued: “At his frequent best … Mr. Hoagland is demonically in touch with the American demotic.” Hoagland’s books of poetry . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Health & Illness, Living

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.