Jan. 16, 2007
A Color of the Sky
Poem: "A Color of the Sky" by Tony Hoagland, from What Narcissism Means to Me. © Graywolf Press. Reprinted with permission.
A Color of the Sky
Windy today and I feel less than brilliant,
driving over the hills from work.
There are the dark parts on the road
when you pass through clumps of wood
and the bright spots where you have a view of the ocean,
but that doesn't make the road an allegory.
I should call Marie and apologize
for being so boring at dinner last night,
but can I really promise not to be that way again?
And anyway, I'd rather watch the trees, tossing
in what certainly looks like sexual arousal.
Otherwise it's spring, and everything looks frail;
the sky is baby blue, and the just-unfurling leaves
are full of infant chlorophyll,
the very tint of inexperience.
Last summer's song is making a comeback on the radio,
and on the highway overpass,
the only metaphysical vandal in America has written
MEMORY LOVES TIME
in big black spraypaint letters,
which makes us wonder if Time loves Memory back.
Last night I dreamed of X again.
She's like a stain on my subconscious sheets.
Years ago she penetrated me
but though I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed,
I never got her out,
but now I'm glad.
What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.
What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.
What I thought was an injustice
turned out to be a color of the sky.
Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature's wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It's been doing that all week:
and throwing it away,
and making more.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of the Canadian poet Robert W. Service, (books by this author) born in Preston, England, in 1874. He moved to Canada in 1897 and for eight years worked in the Yukon for the Canadian Bank of Commerce. Influenced by Kipling, Robert W. Service wrote ballads about Yukon life. Two of these poems, his most famous, are "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" and "The Cremation of Sam McGee." They appeared in Songs of a Sourdough (1907, reprinted in 1915 as The Spell of the Yukon).
It's the birthday of the novelist William Kennedy, (books by this author) born in Albany, New York (1928). Kennedy's novel Ironweed was the third in his "Albany trilogy," but it was the first success. When it was published in 1983, there was an immediate demand for the first two: Legs (1975) and Billy Phelan's Greatest Game (1978). The trilogy, which was set in the "sin city" days of Albany's Prohibition and Depression eras, made Kennedy famous and put his hometown on the map. Ironweed won him a National Book Award and a Pulitzer; in 1987, it was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.
It's the birthday of essayist and cultural critic Susan Sontag, (books by this author) also born in New York City (1933). She was an intellectual even as a child, buying the Partisan Review and reading Trilling, Rosenberg, and Arendt. She graduated from high school at age 15 and became a serial academic. She took classes at Berkeley, then earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the University of Chicago after only two years of classes. She earned two master's degrees from Harvard, studied at Oxford and the University of Paris, and then, in 1959, moved with her son to New York City. During the course of her studies she had married, had a child with, and divorced Philip Rieff, who had been one of her professors at the University of Chicago.
Susan Sontag said that she preferred to think of herself as a novelist. Her first novel, The Benefactor, was published in 1963. Her most popular, The Volcano Lover, came out in 2002. But it is her essays that made her famous.
In her early essays, Sontag wrote criticism of art and culture. Other critical essays of the early '60s were dry and academic hers were not. Her essay "Notes on Camp" was first published in the Partisan Review in 1964. The essay had a huge impact on the New York intellectual world, and Susan Sontag became a sort of spokesperson for the American avant-garde.
Susan Sontag's son, David Rieff, said his mother had "an unslakable kind of curiosity, of interest in the world. She is someone who can go to an opera, meet someone at two in the morning to go to the Ritz and listen to some neo-Nazi punk synthesizer band and then get up the next morning to see two Crimean dissidents."
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®