By Tony Hoagland

The kind Italian driver of the bus to Rome
invited her to his house—she was obviously
hungry—and gave her sandwiches
and raped her.

All those years ago—she smiles
while telling it—contemptuous,
of her younger self,

who drags behind her like a can.
Grammar is great
but who will write the sentence that includes
the story of the damage to her soul

and how she thought her bad Italian
was at fault, and
how it took a month for her to say
the word for what had happened
                                             in her head?

But that’s why
we invented the complex sentence,
so we could stand at a distance,

making slight adjustments
of the harness,
while following the twisty, ever-turning plot:

the loneliness of what we did;
the loneliness
of what was done to us.

(Today’s poem originally appeared in Ploughshares and appears here today with permission from the poet.)

Tony Hoagland has published five books of poetry and prose about poetry with Graywolf Press.

Editor’s Note: Isn’t language amazing? How it unfolds, at once telling a story and creating the safe/dangerous/charged space that story can exist within? Tony Hoaglan is a true master of the sentence. He understands its complexities, knows how to manipulate the malleable material with his pen. How complex the sentence needs to be that can carry the weight of today’s message, how artful the poet who brings the sentence and the story to life.

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by Tony Hoagland

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,

and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from,
to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.

Tony Hoagland is a prize-winning American poet currently teaching at the University of Houston.  His latest full-length book is titled, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2010).