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Tony Hoagland: Gallery for What Narcissism Means to Me

When Dean Young Talks About Wine | Phone Call | Narcissus Lullaby

When Dean Young Talks About Wine

The worm thrashes when it enters the tequila.
The grape cries out in the wine vat crusher.

But when Dean Young talks about wine, his voice is strangely calm.
Yet it seems that wine is rarely mentioned.

He says, Great first chapter but no plot.
He says, Long runway, short flight.
He says, This one never had a secret.
He says, You can't wear stripes with that.

He squints as if recalling his childhood in France.
He purses his lips and shakes his head at the glass.

Eight-four was a naughty year, he says,
and for a second I worry that California has turned him
into a sushi-eater in a cravat.

Then he says,
                This one makes clear the difference
between a thoughtless remark
and an unwarranted intrusion.

Then he says, In this one the pacific last light of afternoon
stains the wings of the seagull pink
              at the very edge of the postcard.

But where is the Cabernet of rent checks and asthma medication?
Where is the Burgundy of orthopedic shoes?
Where is the Chablis of skinned knees and jelly sandwiches?
with the aftertaste of cruel Little League coaches?
and the undertone of rusty stationwagon?

His mouth is purple as if from his own ventricle
he had drunk.
He sways like a fishing rod.

When a beast is hurt it roars in incomprehension.
When a bird is hurt it huddles in its nest.

But when a man is hurt,
            he makes himself an expert.
Then he stands there with a glass in his hand
staring into nothing
              as if he were forming an opinion.

Phone Call

Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight exaggeration,

an immoderate description of the person
who at that moment, two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.

What I meant was that my father
was an enemy of my humanity
and what I meant behind that
was that my father was split
into two people, one of them

living deep inside me
like a bad king or an incurable disease—
blighting my crops,
striking down my herds,
poisoning my wells—the other
standing in another time zone,
in a kitchen in Wyoming,
with bad knees and white hair sprouting from his ears.

I don't want to scream forever,
I don't want to live without proportion
like some kind of infection from the past,

so I have to remember the second father,
the one whose TV dinner is getting cold
while he holds the phone in his left hand
and stares blankly out the window

where just now the sun is going down
and the last fingertips of sunlight
are withdrawing from the hills
they once touched like a child.

Narcissus Lullaby

If someone anywhere right now
is imagining me,
saying my name thoughtfully,

with her pink tongue touching
the smooth ceiling of her mouth
softly to pronounce the T,

like the first brush stroke
in a figurative landscape painting of

—then I can relax for a moment
in the matter of remembering myself,
I can close my eyes and let

the whole factory of identity go
drifting in the dark
like a big brick warehouse full of anxious secrets

in an unsafe neighborhood
gone quiet at the end of the day,
yet guarded and protected and caressed

by the softly conscious flashlight
of my imaginary friend's

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"When Dean Young Talks About Wine," "Phone Call," and "Narcissus Lullaby" © 2003, by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted from What Narcissism Means to Me with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved.
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© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.