Saddened by the death of Tony Hoagland (1953 – 2018), the sharp and witty American poet, I read one of his poems today.
When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.
After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,
but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.
I’m probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,
spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
which was her specialty,
while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.
Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men,
looking for just one with the kind
of attention span she could count on.
Then one day her time of prettiness
was over, done, finito,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,
walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always seem to have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it—
It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.
My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed by what was happening,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,
something she had carried a long ways,
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.
A precise narrative poem. I like the rich picture he paints of the girl who ‘perfected the art of being a dumb blond’. The superficiality of her beauty and how it was over so suddenly.
And that description of spring! Isn’t it gorgeous, climbing up on the mulched bodies of our forebears to wave our own flags in the parade?
Being done with beauty seems to denote a higher truth here, an acceptance of the circle of life and love. And the disinterested trance of the ‘other’ women who continue being beautiful. Isn’t it the same trance as the sister experienced when she throws out beauty, to the secret place that keeps it safe?
Reading: Beauty by Tony Hoagland was originally published on Meandering home