Resolving to do better next week. I don’t know what I’m running from, but I’m doing that again. I need to stop.

The Loneliest Job in the World
Tony Hoagland

As soon as you begin to ask the question, Who loves me?
you are completely screwed, because
the next question is How Much?

and then it is hundreds of hours later,
and you are still hunched over
your flowcharts and abacus,

trying to decide if you have gotten enough.
This is the loneliest job in the world:
to be an accountant of the heart.

It is late at night. You are by yourself,
and all around you, you can hear
the sounds of people moving

in and out of love,
pushing the turnstiles, putting
their coins in the slots,

paying the price which is asked,
which constantly changes.
No one knows why.

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Discomfited.

Self-Improvement
Tony Hoagland

Just before she flew off like a swan
to her wealthy parents’ summer home,
Bruce’s college girlfriend asked him
to improve his expertise at oral sex,
and offered him some technical advice:

Use nothing but his tonguetip
to flick the light switch in his room
on and off a hundred times a day
until he grew fluent at the nuances
of force and latitude.

Imagine him at practice every evening,
more inspired than he ever was at algebra,
beads of sweat sprouting on his brow,
thinking, thirty-seven, thirty-eight,
seeing, in the tunnel vision of his mind’s eye,
the quadratic equation of her climax
yield to the logic
of his simple math.

Maybe he unscrewed
the bulb from his apartment ceiling
so that passersby would not believe
a giant firefly was pulsing
its electric abdomen in 13 B.

Maybe, as he stood
two inches from the wall,
in darkness, fogging the old plaster
with his breath, he visualized the future
as a mansion standing on the shore
that he was rowing to
with his tongue’s exhausted oar.

Of course, the girlfriend dumped him:
met someone, apres-ski, who,
using nothing but his nose
could identify the vintage of a Cabernet.

Sometimes we are asked
to get good at something we have
no talent for,
or we excel at something we will never
have the opportunity to prove.

Often we ask ourselves
to make absolute sense
out of what just happens,
and in this way, what we are practicing

is suffering,
which everybody practices,
but strangely few of us
grow graceful in.

The climaxes of suffering are complex,
costly, beautiful, but secret.
Bruce never played the light switch again.

So the avenues we walk down,
full of bodies wearing faces,
are full of hidden talent:
enough to make pianos moan,
sidewalks split,
streetlights deliriously flicker.

Bach, tonight. Looking to the orchestra for forgiveness.

How It Adds Up
Tony Hoagland

There was the day we swam in a river, a lake, and an ocean.
And the day I quit the job my father got me.
And the day I stood outside a door,
and listened to my girlfriend making love
to someone obviously not me, inside,

and I felt strange because I didn’t care.

There was the morning I was born,
and the year I was a loser,
and the night I was the winner of the prize
for which the audience applauded.

Then there was someone else I met,
whose face and voice I can’t forget,
and the memory of her
is like a jail I’m trapped inside,

or maybe she is something I just use
                                      to hold my real life at a distance.

Happiness, Joe says, is a wild red flower
                      plucked from a river of lava
and held aloft on a tightrope

                      strung between two scrawny trees
above a canyon

                      in a manic-depressive windstorm.

Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it, Don’t drop it—,

And when you do, you will keep looking for it
everywhere, for years,
while right behind you,
the footprints you are leaving

will look like notes
                                      of a crazy song.

Spent most of last night and the wee hours just reading. We had a power failure that lasted for hours, and while everybody opted to pass the time by sleeping, I sat in the kitchen reading by candlelight. I burned four candles and finished three books, and in the silence that followed after everything burned out I was thankful for the spaces between the full morning and night, where I can sit and listen to the clock ticking, to our listless dog pacing outside, and to the sound of my own breathing as I wait for everyone to wake up.

The Word
Tony Hoagland

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.