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Maxine, back from a weekend with her boyfriend,
smiles like a big cat and says
that she's a conjugated verb.
She's been doing the direct object
with a second person pronoun named Phil,
and when she walks into the room,
everybody turns:

some kind of light is coming from her head.
Even the geraniums look curious,
and the bees, if they were here, would buzz
suspiciously around her hair, looking
for the door in her corona.
We're all attracted to the perfume
of fermenting joy,

we've all tried to start a fire,
and one day maybe it will blaze up on its own.
In the meantime, she is the one today among us
most able to bear the idea of her own beauty,
and when we see it, what we do is natural:
we take our burned hands
out of our pockets,
and clap.

—Tony Hoagland

from Donkey Gospel, 1998
Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minn.

Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland.
All rights reserved.

Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota, from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems. Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland. For further permissions information, contact Permissions Department, Graywolf Press, 2402 University Ave., Ste. 203, St Paul, MN 55114.

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Tony Hoagland (1953- ) is the author of four poetry collections, including Application for Release from the Dream (Graywolf Press, 2015). Hoagland was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Arizona.

Learn more about Tony Hoagland at The Poetry Foundation.