There is something sad about finishing a book of contemporary poetry. The good books are a treasured commodity. Being out of the literary/education community I really have to search and dig for poetry. The only bookstore that carries anything good is in Menlo Park, Kepler’s, about 15 miles south. On top of that, I don’t know the good, new poets anymore so whenever my old favorites come out with something new I attack it. Tony Hoagland, Billy Collins… according to the local Border’s, they are the only two contemporary poets writing. Well, they and Mary Oliver. Where’s Gary Soto’s work? Where’s Sharon Olds? Where’s Mark Doty? Did Philip Levine die or did he just close up shop like all those factories he wrote about in Detroit and Hamtramck? Are his pencils piled, forgotten and dusty on his desk, the debris of eraser crumbs strewn across the blotter? Is his study locked up tight while he is out in the dusty sun of Fresno deciphering the footprints sparrows leave in a pollen-coated parking lot, next to a dumpster, filled with cardboard?
Here’s one from Tony Hoagland that I like, from his latest book, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty.
The Story of White People
After so long seeming right, as in
true, as in clean, as in smart,
being smart enough at least
not to be born some other color,
after so long being visitors
from the galaxy Caucasia,
now they are starting to seem a little
deficient, leached out, spent, colorless,
as in being too far and too long
removed from the original source
suffering from a slight amnesia
in the way that skim milk can barely
remember the cow
and this change in status is
mysterious, indifferent, and objective,
as in the beginning of winter
when the light shifts its angle of attention
from the mulberry to the cottonwood.
Just another change of season,
not that dramatic or perceptible,
but to all of us, it feels a little different.