There Is No Word
There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers
—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin
plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits.
There is no single, unimpeachable word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you
as it exceeds its elastic capacity
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street
chatting with an old friend
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance,
a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye
I think we share a feeling of relief,
a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,
though to tell the truth
what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;
how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference of almost anything—
how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the
misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.
About Tony Hoagland
Tony Hoagland was born in 1953 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He earned a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the University of Arizona. Hoagland’s poetry is known for its acerbic, witty take on contemporary life and “straight talk,” in the words of New York Times reviewer Dwight Garner, who continued: “At his frequent best … Mr. Hoagland is demonically in touch with the American demotic.”
Hoagland’s books of poetry include Sweet Ruin (1992), which was chosen for the Brittingham Prize in Poetry and won the Zacharis Award from Emerson College; Donkey Gospel (1998), winner of the James Laughlin Award; What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Rain (2005); and Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010). He has also published a collection of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun (2006).
Hoagland’s many honors and awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He has received the O.B. Hardison Prize for Poetry and Teaching from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award and the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers. Hoagland teaches at the University of Houston and in the Warren Wilson MFA program.
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“There is No Word” © Tony Hoagland. Poem and biography courtesy of The Poetry Foundation. All rights reserved.