Feb. 18, 2009

History of Desire

by Tony Hoagland

When you're seventeen, and drunk
on the husky, late-night flavor
of your first girlfriend's voice
along the wires of the telephone

what else to do but steal
your father's El Dorado from the drive,
and cruise out to the park on Driscoll Hill?
Then climb the county water tower

and aerosol her name in spraycan orange
a hundred feet above the town?
Because only the letters of that word,
DORIS, next door to yours,

in yard-high, iridescent script,
are amplified enough to tell the world
who's playing lead guitar
in the rock band of your blood.

You don't consider for a moment
the shock in store for you in 10 A.D.,
a decade after Doris, when,
out for a drive on your visit home,

you take the Smallville Road, look up
still scorched upon the reservoir.
This is how history catches up—

by holding still until you
bump into yourself.
What makes you blush, and shove
the pedal of the Mustang

almost through the floor
as if you wanted to spray gravel
across the features of the past,
or accelerate into oblivion?

Are you so out of love that you
can't move fast enough away?
But if desire is acceleration,
experience is circular as any

Indianapolis. We keep coming back
to what we are—each time older,
more freaked out, or less afraid.
And you are older now.

You should stop today.
In the name of Doris, stop.

"History of Desire" by Tony Hoagland, from Sweet Ruin. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Toni Morrison, (books by this author) born in Lorain, Ohio (1931). She started writing when she was in her thirties, unhappily married, working as an editor, and raising two children. She said, "It was as though I had nothing left but my imagination. I wrote like someone with a dirty habit. Secretly. Compulsively. Slyly." She went on to write nine novels, including The Bluest Eye (1969), Song of Solomon (1977), Beloved (1987), and in 2008, A Mercy. In 1993, she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, (books by this author) born on the island of Crete in Greece (1883). When he was in his 60s, he finally got his break as a writer when he published Zorba the Greek (1946), a novel about an intellectual who travels to Crete with his peasant friend Zorba to manage a group of mine workers. Then he wrote The Last Temptation of Christ (1955), the story of the crucifixion from Jesus' point of view.

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, (books by this author) born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). His father had big dreams of striking it rich in a Western boomtown, so the family moved around constantly while he tried his hand at various harebrained schemes — farming in North Dakota, running a lunchroom in the backwoods of Washington state, bootlegging liquor in Montana, selling redwood trees in California as firewood, and using the family's savings in an attempt to invent a machine that would detect gold in the ground. It wasn't an easy childhood for young Wallace, but he grew to love the West, and wrote about it in many of his novels. His books include The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), Angle of Repose (1971), and The Spectator Bird (1976).

It's the birthday of Caribbean-American poet Audre Lorde, (books by this author) born on this day in New York City in 1934. Her books include From a Land Where Other People Live (1972) and The Black Unicorn (1978).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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