Today’s poem is “Personal” by Tony Hoagland. He was the author of eight books of poetry, most recently Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (2018). He lived in Waterville for eight years and taught at Colby College and the University of Maine Farmington. Tony Hoagland died in 2018.
He wrote, "So much of what I love about poetry lies in the vast possibilities of voice, the spectacular range of idiosyncratic flavors that can be embedded in a particular human voice reporting from the field. One beautiful axis of voice is the one that runs between vulnerability and detachment, between 'It hurts to be alive' and 'I can see a million miles from here.'”
by Tony Hoagland
Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
and I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness.
Think first, they said of Talk.
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts.
But I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret;
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure,
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that limousine, the moon,
climbing an onramp of pearl gray cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard:
barking and barking,
trying to convince everything else to wake up
and take it personal too.
Poem copyright ©2010 Tony Hoagland. Reprinted from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Graywolf Press, 2010, by permission of Kathleen Lee.