How It Adds Up

By Tony Hoagland b. 1953 Tony Hoagland
There was the day we swam in a river, a lake, and an ocean.   
And the day I quit the job my father got me.   
And the day I stood outside a door,   
and listened to my girlfriend making love   
to someone obviously not me, inside,   

and I felt strange because I didn’t care.   

There was the morning I was born,   
and the year I was a loser,   
and the night I was the winner of the prize   
for which the audience applauded.   

Then there was someone else I met,   
whose face and voice I can’t forget,   
and the memory of her   
is like a jail I’m trapped inside,   

or maybe she is something I just use   
                                       to hold my real life at a distance.

Happiness, Joe says, is a wild red flower   
                      plucked from a river of lava   
and held aloft on a tightrope   
                      strung between two scrawny trees   
above a canyon   
                      in a manic-depressive windstorm.

Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it—,   

And when you do, you will keep looking for it   
everywhere, for years,   
while right behind you,   
the footprints you are leaving   

will look like notes   
                                          of a crazy song.

“How It Adds Up” copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted from What Narcissism Means to Me with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Source: What Narcissism Means to Me (Graywolf Press, 2003)

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Poet Tony Hoagland b. 1953

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Living, Disappointment & Failure

 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Disappointment & Failure

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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