Tony Hoagland


Poems by Tony Hoagland

Physiology of Kisses

Mistaken Identity

Parade



 

Tony Hoagland

Mistaken Identity

 

I thought I saw my mother
in the lesbian bar,
with a salt gray crew cut, a nose stud
and a tattoo of a parrot on her arm.
She was sitting at a corner table,
leaning forward to ignite, on someone’s match,
one of those low-tar things she used to smoke,

and she looked happy to be alive again
after her long marriage
to other people’s needs,
her twenty-year stint as Sisyphus,
struggling to push
a blue Ford station wagon full of screaming kids
up a mountainside of groceries.

My friend Debra had brought me there
to educate me on the issue
of my own unnecessariness,
and I stood against the wall, trying to look
simultaneously nonviolent

and nonchalant, watching couples
slowdance in the female dark,
but feeling speechless, really,
as the first horse to meet the first
horseless carriage on a cobbled street.

That’s when I noticed Mom,
whispering into the delicate
seashell ear of a brunette,
running a fingertip along
the shoreline of a tank top,

as if death had taught her finally
not to question what she wanted
and not to hesitate
in reaching out and taking it.

I want to figure out everything
right now, before I die,
but I admit that in the dark
(where a whole life can be mistaken) cavern of that bar
it took me one, maybe two big minutes

to find my footing
and to aim my antiquated glance
over the shoulder of that woman
pretending not to be my mother,
as if I were looking for someone else.

 

 

From WHAT NARCISSISM MEANS TO ME (Graywolf Press, 2003)