Scoundrel Time

Two Poems By Tony Hoagland

DINNER GUEST

The dinner guest goes upstairs to use the ladies room,
and after she has washed her hands, just out of curiosity
takes a peek in the medicine cabinet- where among
the Nyquil and Ativan and dental floss she sees
a bottle labeled Male Enhancement Formula,

—and is puzzled for a moment, and then amused.
Is this the funny little thing, she wonders,
that has caused so many wars? so many
murders and exploded buildings?
so many smashed down doors and refugees?

And in a way, of course, she is correct. The need to
engineer an outcome, the desire to
feel confident that what you want to happen
will happen when you want—
as an explanation it explains so much.

Downstairs, re-seated in her chair, the guest
picks up her knife and fork,
but now her appetite is gone.

Outside it’s dark; inside,
the candles lick their yellow tongues,
and at the table, the final course
of big ideas is being served—

the men are saying
that injustice can be eliminated.

__________

AFTER THE MARTIN LUTHER KING FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES
THAT THE “I HAVE A DREAM” SPEECH IS PRIVATE PROPERTY
BUT IS AVAILABLE FOR COMMERCIAL LEASE

Immediately, the words of the sentences are glimpsed everywhere,
like runaways, climbing onto
buses and trains, trying to get away from Birmingham,

wearing trenchcoats with turned-up collars
and fedoras with pulled down brims.
In an announcement meant to reassure the public,

authorities declare
that it’s only when the words are grouped together
that they should be considered dangerous,

but the words keep on going,
not looking back,
renouncing the dream of safety in this world,

the I and the have
hitchhiking towards Boston and Toronto,
the mountain and America

trying to blend in
with the small print on
bottles of cough medicine

and shipping labels
–places where they
will never be found, captured
and brought back

to a country
where you can be bought and sold,
and shackled
to what comes more and more to seem
a dream of a dream of a dream.

__________

“Dinner Guest” will appear in Hoagland’s book Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (Graywolf Press, June, 2018)

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