The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Tony Hoagland

Supermodel Throwdown


I watch the TV contestants attempt to climb the cliff
and fall off again and again.

When they get to the top they encounter the giant fan
and the whipped cream challenge.

Then they have to hold their breath and
painfully belly-crawl through a twenty-foot long chute.

Although I know they cannot hear,
sometimes I find myself rising to my feet,

shouting at the screen,
"Why did you wear high heels, you idiot!"

What is the holy ghost that lives inside of us,
that coordinates the nimble hands and feet to climb?

What is the part that wants an audience?
What is the brokenness that makes me

laugh when I am angry,
flatter those more powerful than me,

or smile like a shit-eating dog
when I feel shame?

The contestants keep trying to climb the wall,
to balance on the giant ball as long as possible,

while they imagine the tenuous glory
of millions of watching eyes:

the men looking grim, but strong; the women
holding onto their ineradicable smiles.

Then they go down,
down into the valley of mud,

for the dreadful, dead-serious tug of war.



Tony Hoagland

Listening to Men Drinking in the Next Room

                                                                                   for Robert Bly


They are in there now, slowly beginning to rotate on a spit
of Budweiser and Scotch.

They warm up slowly, like gnats in summer light,
or like grasshoppers that unfold their wings to take the sun.

The volume of their voices rises and subsides again
like a flock of geese rising from a field of Minnesota wheat;

then turns into a drunken pack of bluetick hounds that bay and bark
in pursuit of a mythical raccoon.

In a sense, it is their mother’s milk they drink--
squeezed from spigots made of brass, with copper spouts,

and as they suck, their faces soften and transform
into the faces of young boys.

The night is made from foot-thick dungeon planks
carved with centuries of names.

The tavern is a courtroom in which
a thousand verdicts have been handed down;

where, now, the jailers have been put to sleep;
the judge's windpipe has been cut,

and the big flat clock upon the wall,
like the face of Dad, has stopped.




TONY HOAGLAND's fifth book of poems, Application for Release from the Dream, was published by Graywolf Press in 2015. He teaches at the University of Houston, and is working on a craft book about poetry, called Five Powers, Forty Lessons. He has two books of poems forthcoming: Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of Godin 2018 from Graywolf Press. And Recent Changes in the Vernacular from Tres Chicas Press. He lives in Santa Fe N.M.,  and teaches often at the University of Houston.



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