Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Tuesday Poem: "The Change" by Tony Hoagland

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine.
In the park the daffodils came up

and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes—

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies,

        and the new president proves that he’s a dummy.

But remember the tennis match we watched that year?

Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde

pitted against that big black girl from Alabama,

cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms,

some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite—

We were just walking past the lounge

     and got sucked in by the screen above the bar,

and pretty soon

we started to care about who won,

putting ourselves into each whacked return

as the volleys went back and forth and back

like some contest between

the old world and the new,

and you loved her complicated hair

and her to-hell-with-everybody stare,

and I,

         I couldn’t help wanting

the white girl to come out on top,

because she was one of my kind, my tribe,

with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big

and so black,

                        so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation

down Abraham Lincoln’s throat,

like she wasn’t asking anyone’s permission.

There are moments when history

passes you so close

                you can smell its breath,

you can reach your hand out

                                    and touch it on its flank,

and I don’t watch all that much
Masterpiece Theatre,
but I could feel the end of an era there

in front of those bleachers full of people

in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes

as that black girl wore down her opponent

then kicked her ass good

then thumped her once more for good measure

and stood up on the red clay court

holding her racket over her head like a guitar.

And the little pink judge

                          had to climb up on a box

to put the ribbon on her neck,

still managing to smile into the camera flash,

even though everything was changing

and in fact, everything had already changed—

Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged,

it was past us

and we were changed.

 by Tony Hoagland

For more information about the poet, Tony Hoagland, see:

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