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I Wish

Tony Hoagland wrote a poem called “Dickhead.”

I wonder how many poems will be written entitled “Shithole?”

How a word becomes more than a word

is a terrible thing sometimes.

Last night, watching the football game,

my friend’s daughter, Orly, came downstairs

and handed us The New Yorker.

She is ten.

There was a picture of the president in a onesie

sucking on a pacifier.

She said, Makes me gross.

Her father said, Shithole, really loud.

She smiled, and said Shithole back.

That’s what happens now.

Across the country

ten-year-old kids wear baseball caps

with the word Shithole on the rim

and if you imagine it long and hard enough

it becomes the country of your body

which is a terrible thing.

A terrible, horrible thing.

I miss Tony Hoagland.

I miss his poem.

His poem is about the high school locker room

and jock straps

and other boys saying nasty things

and owning words

and turning words into sunflowers

when they have been bricks of coal

hurled at other people’s heads.

It makes me sad and the sadness takes over

when my friends’ ten-year-old daughter goes up to bed

and takes that word with her

instead of a book on rare gems,

or a cassette player with a mixed tape

her mother made for her

of all the cool songs from 1976,

the first one “I Wish.”

I wish Stevie Wonder, Tony Hoagland, and Orly¸

could sit down for dinner one night

adorned in long Technicolor robes,

laughing so hard that the sound of their laughter

eradicated the word Shithead from the lexicon,

erased it so thoroughly that there would be no more cartoons of him

in his infant clothes,

sucking his thumb,

watching television clips of himself into oblivion.

from Mesmerizing Sadly BeautifulFind more by Matthew Lippman at the library

Copyright © 2020 Matthew Lippman
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Matthew Lippman Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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