A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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Because first of all, I have a feeling that they didn’t cost you anything,
and so I have to wonder: What is their actual market value?
For you, is the prayer like a radar-guided projectile
mounted on the hinged-together wings of several good intentions,
propelled by the flawed translation of a Rumi poem?
Anyway, my mailbox is already pretty much occupied for the season.
At the beginning of May a big mother wren started moving in,
one mouthful of straw and twig at a time.
For three days she flew in and out, in and out and in,
building a nest the size of a small soup bowl.
Then she sat on her eggs for two weeks, cooing and fluffing to keep them warm.
Then she was busy feeding her young.
I think the heat passing through that mother’s body into her brood
has already surpassed the endoplasmic vibrational voltage
you’ve mentioned as a feature of the prayers you are sending me.
I understand that you are doing your best
to hoist yourself up toward a spiritual life,
even if it is through the doorway of a kind of pretending.
But if you really care, as you claim, please
will you kindly sit down and work your shit out?
Stop stealing reality from the world
and replacing it with make-believe!
The newspaper says that poorly aimed prayers
are causing flat tires on I-25.
The sandalwood incense blowing across the valley
is already causing cab drivers a lot of allergies.
So sit still and just look at the colors of the changing sky.
And could you stop burning so many candles, please?
My god, think how many hours and hours and hours —
think of how hard those bees worked
to make all that wax!
Hearing that old phrase “a good death,”
which I still don’t exactly understand,
I’ve decided I’ve already
had so many, I don’t need another.
Though before I go
I wish to offer some revisions
to the existing vocabulary.
Let us decline the pretense
of the hyper-factual: the
myocardial infarction; the arterial embolism;
the postoperative complication.
Let us forgo the euphemistic:
the “passed away”
and “shuffled off this mortal coil,”
as worn out and passive as an old dildo.
Now, if poetry can help, it is time to say,
“She fell from her trapeze at 2 AM
in the midst of a triple backflip
in front of her favorite witnesses.”
Let us say, “In broad daylight,
Ms. Abigail Miller
conducted her daring escape
before life, that Crook,
had completely picked her pocket.”
It is not too late for some hero
to appear and volunteer
in the name of setting an example:
Let us say, “He flew with abandon,
and a joyous expression on his face,
like a gust of wind
or a man in a necktie
from the last dinner party he would ever have to attend.”
To say, “He was the egg
that elected to break
for the greater cause of the omelet;
the good piece of wood
that leapt into the fire.”
“Though grudging at first,
he fell like the rain,
with his eyes wide open,
willing to change.”
I was happy to see Tony Hoagland in your December 2018 issue, especially his poem “On Why I Must Decline to Receive the Prayers You Say You Are Constantly Sending.” (“Thoughts and prayers” is a phrase that drives me batty.) Then I saw the note in Correspondence that he’d died in October. I’m glad he also let you publish “In the Beautiful Rain,” criticizing the silly euphemism “passed away.” These poems are a fitting farewell.
Tony Hoagland taught writing at the University of Maine at Farmington in the early 1990s, where I also taught. He was brilliant, generous, funny, and a beloved teacher. I helped put together an anthology for new students to read, beginning with Hoagland’s poem “The Question,” from his collection Sweet Ruin: “Some questions have no answer. / Raised, they hang in the mind / Like open mouths, full of something missing. . . .”
The first words a new student at our university had to ponder were Hoagland’s. They couldn’t have asked for a better introduction.