After I heard It's a Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall played softly by an accordion quartet through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall, I understood: there's nothing we can't pluck the stinger from, nothing we can't turn into a soft-drink flavor or a t-shirt. Even serenity can become something horrible if you make a commercial about it using smiling, white-haired people quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes in the Everglades, where the swamp has been drained and bulldozed into a nineteen-hole golf course with electrified alligator barriers. "You can't keep beating yourself up, Billy," I heard the therapist say on television to the teenage murderer, "about all those people you killed— You just have to be the best person you can be, one day at a time—" And everybody in the audience claps and weeps a little, because the level of deep feeling has been touched, and they want to believe that the power of Forgiveness is greater than the power of Consequence, or History. Dear Abby: My father is a businessman who travels. Each time he returns from one of his trips, his shoes and trousers are covered with blood— but he never forgets to bring me a nice present; Should I say something? Signed, America. I used to think I was not part of this, that I could mind my own business and get along, but that was just another song that had been taught to me since birth— whose words I was humming under my breath, as I was walking through the Springdale Mall.
“Hard Rain” Tony Hoagland from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty.
Graywolf Press, 2010.
Reprinted by permission of the author.
Tony Hoagland (1953- ) was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and educated at the University of Iowa and the University of Arizona. He is the author of Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010), his fourth full-length collection of poetry. Hoagland was selected as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for his collection What Narcissism Means to Me (2003). He currently teaches at the University of Houston and in the Warren Wilson MFA program.
Learn more about Tony Hoagland at The Poetry Foundation