America

By Tony Hoagland b. 1953 Tony Hoagland
Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud   
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes   
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

And as I consider how to express how full of shit I think he is,   
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them   
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds   
Of the thick satin quilt of America

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,   
or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,   
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills   
Spilling from his wounds, and—this is the weird part—,

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were   
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which was when I knew it was a dream, since my dad   
Would never speak in rhymed couplets,

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

Tony Hoagland, “America” from What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: What Narcissism Means to Me (2003)

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Poet Tony Hoagland b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, School & Learning, Living, Activities

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Tony  Hoagland

Biography

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 . . .

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SUBJECT History & Politics, Social Commentaries, Youth, School & Learning, Living, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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