Listen to Tony Hoagland read this poem.
The dictator in the turban died and was replaced by a dictator in a Western business suit. Now that he looked like all the other leaders, observers
detected a certain relaxing of tensions. Something in the air
said the weather was changing,
and if you looked up at the sky and squinted, you could almost see
the faint dollar signs embossed upon the big, migrating clouds,
sucking up cash in one place, raining it down in another.
Meanwhile I was trying to get across town,
to my brother-in-law’s funeral,
speeding through yellow lights, arriving late,
taking my place in a line of idling cars
outside the cemetery. Having to wait with everyone else
because no one had gotten the code number
to punch into the keypad on the automatic gate.
Cold day. The neighborhood, ugly and poor,
like a runny nose,
a reminder of misery in the world.
And Barney was dead, big PartyBoy Barney,
famous for his appetite and lack of self-control—
—now, needing an extra-large coffin,
as if he was taking his old friends
Drinking Eating and Smoking
into the hole with him.
—So what hovered over the proceedings that afternoon
was a mixture of grief and vindication—
like a complex sauce the pallbearers and aunts
were floating in, each one thinking,
“Oh God! I told him this would happen!”
Later, at the reception, I saw my beautiful ex-wife,
wearing a simple black dress
that showed off her beautiful neck
standing next to a guy I would like to call
her future second ex-husband.
A long time since she and I had been extinct,
but still I found inside myself an urge
to go over and tell her one more time
it wasn’t my fault—
and struggled for a moment with that
Upstairs, looking for a place to be alone,
I found a television, turned on and abandoned in a room,
churning out pictures and light against a wall—
Images of crowds, marching down streets, past
burning, overturned cars; people in robes,
gathered outside embassies and throwing stones.
Even with the sound off,
not even knowing the name of the country,
I thought that I could understand
what they were protesting about,
what had made them so angry:
They wanted to be let out of the TV set;
They had been trapped in there, and they wanted out.