Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A longtime favorite

The first time I read this I was 19. I knew it was prophetic but I couldn't look away.
Do we become the things we love?


Tony Hoaglund

Maybe that is what he was after, 
my father, when he arranged, ten years ago, 
to be discovered in a mobile home
with a woman named Roxanne, an attractive, 
recently divorced masseuse. 

He sat there, he said later, in the middle 
of a red, imitation-leather sofa, 
with his shoes off and a whiskey in his hand, 
filling up with a joyful kind of dread--
like a swamp, filling up with night, 

--while my mother hammered on the trailer door
with a muddy, pried-up stone, 
then smashed the headlights of his car, 
drove home, 
and locked herself inside. 

He paid the piper, was how he put it, 
because he wanted to live, 
and at the time knew no other way 
than to behave like some blind and willful beast, 
--to make a huge mistake, like a giant leap

into space, as if following
a music that required dissonance
and a plunge into the dark. 
That is what he tried to tell me, 
the afternoon we talked, 
as he reclined in his black chair, 
divorced from the people in his story
by ten years and a heavy cloud of smoke. 
Trying to explain how a man could come 
to a place where he has nothing else to gain

unless he loses everything. So he 
louses up his work, his love, his own heart. 
He hails disaster like a cab. And years later, 
when the storm has descended 
and rubbed his face in the mud of himself, 

he stands again and looks around, 
strangely thankful just to be alive, 
oddly jubilant--as if he had been granted
the answer to his riddle, 
or as if the question 

had been taken back. Perhaps 
a wind is freshening the grass, 
and he can see now, as for the first time, 
the softness of the air between the blades. The pleasure 
built into a single bending leaf. 

Maybe then he calls it, in a low voice 
and only to himself, Sweet Ruin.
And maybe only because I am his son, 
I can hear just what he means. How 
even at this moment, even when the world

seems so perfectly arranged, I feel 
a force prepared to take it back. 
Like a smudge on the horizon. Like a black spot
on the heart. How one day soon, 
I might take this nervous paradise, 

bone and muscle of this extraordinary life, 
and with one deliberate gesture, 
like a man stepping on a stick, 
break it into halves. But less gracefully 

than that. I think there must be something wrong
with me, or wrong with strength, that I would 
break my happiness apart
simply for the pleasure of the sound. 
The sound the pieces make. What is wrong

with peace? I couldn't say. 
But, sweet ruin, I can hear you. 
There is always the desire. 
Always the cloud, suddenly present
and willing to oblige.

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