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