Tony Hoagland

(1953 - / North Carolina / United States)

Lucky - Poem by Tony Hoagland

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child

to stop,
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.

Comments about Lucky by Tony Hoagland

  • Drtony Brahmin (4/25/2018 7:32:00 AM)

    Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
    her belly and her chest,
    the sorry ruin of her flanks... a very fine poem , it touched me about what u wrote about the mother. thanku dear poet.

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  • Rajnish Manga (1/28/2017 11:46:00 PM)

    Very poignant poem that brings to fore the impact of aging in life. Thanks. (Report)Reply

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  • (1/28/2017 10:58:00 PM)

    The precious bondage and most intimate relationship of a child and mother marvelously unfolded. Thanks for sharing it here. (Report)Reply

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  • Bernard F. Asuncion (1/28/2017 10:22:00 PM)

    No mother in her right mind abandons her child. We must love our mothers. Not all are mothers but everyone is a son or daughter......... (Report)Reply

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  • Bharati Nayak (1/28/2017 8:50:00 PM)

    'Revenge ' attitude is like a 'Brahma Rakyas', a furious demon residing inside the person and kills him first.While taking care of the old mother, the anger and hatred going through the adult child nullify the good deeds done by him.It is painful to see someone feel and treat mother in this way. (Report)Reply

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  • Anil Kumar Panda (1/28/2017 11:43:00 AM)

    This is not a way a mother should be treated. She is soft and lovely when old and must be treated kindly. Nice poem. (Report)Reply

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  • Lantz Pierre (1/28/2017 9:48:00 AM)

    To be able to peel away all the raw emotion to find the words that express all the complex layers of feeling with such touching, gentle and perverse joy is an neigh on miraculous. To step outside of oneself to see the self with such objective, crystal rationality, and then to come up with the words to do that justice is a humbling high-wire act over an abyss of blackness and beauty that I am nearly left speechless myself. Wow. (Report)Reply

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  • (1/28/2017 3:39:00 AM)

    a poem of compassion and understanding and that ultimately we are all made from the same mould. (Report)Reply

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  • Paul Brookes (1/28/2017 3:25:00 AM)

    As child who was abused mentally and emotionally if not physically I can see where the author is coming from it is love and situation but also destructive to both parties I too dreamt of revenge but is ate at my soul and I decided to forgive it is a burden that I no longer wished to carry and we became in the ends friends and I gained understanding for the reasons in my case my Grandmother who brought me up cruelty. The poet here express his revenge and exacts it in like a parent to a child in petty ways did it give him relief from his pain maybe but it left deep scar on his soul that's for sure. The poet express all the angst and pain of a child whilst writing as an adult and gets to core of the parent child relationship. It is sad and at times cruel poem but I understand his pain. I think this a first class poem and should be seen maybe more as a parable than reality.10 +++ (Report)Reply

    Terry Craddock(1/29/2017 5:05:00 PM)

    This was a couragious and perceptive analysis to make Andy and I admire and respect your honest courage and thoughtful comment. Yes many of us as children were abused mentally emotionally and physically and these are the scares which can take decades to heal or never heal. Although this subject is avoided by most poets and people, we must ask ourselves at what cost? To ignore a social problem, to sweep it under a metaphorical mat or bury our head in the sand will not solve distasteful social issues. Therefore we have a choice, do we address distaseful issues, discussion them and attempt to solve them, or do we ignore them and let the problem perpetuate? This is our choice.
    One of my ealiest poems 'State Of 20th Century Man' addresses suicide, youth suicide; an issue that was socially ignored in January 1982, and continued to be ignored for decades. The poem was refused publication by editors who believed and sympathised with the social exaimination of the topic, but would not publish the poem because it might upset some readers.
    Yes the hurt and pain of suicide upsets some readers, especially those effected personally by close friends or relatives who commited suicide or attempted to commit suicide. But not addressing this subject was directly responsible for countless death by suicide events, for many who cried out for help, but close associates had no knowledge of symptons and could offer no help.
    Do we need to recognize social problems, educate on social problems, to minimize cause and effect cycles of these perpetulating problems. Victims and associates of victims also need to discuss what has happened to help with mental scares left, professional help and aid supports help with the recovery process and lead to healthier societies.
    The question remains, do we address problems to help resolve problems, or do we listen to those who wish to ignore problems and pretend they do not exist. The age at which social problems are address is restricted by age and to an appropriate place and time, but the fact that countries and societies with diverse cultures and religions do address complex social problems and have done so throughout recorded history, atests to the importance of resolving not ignoring complex social problems. The choice is ours.

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  • Edward Kofi Louis (1/28/2017 2:30:00 AM)

    In any language. Thanks for sharing this poem with us. (Report)Reply

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  • (11/23/2015 9:07:00 AM)

    This resonates so deeply with me and my relationship with my mother. I never expected someone to be willing to reveal the darkened corners of the soul and speak on such a controversial feeling. To those in avid and immediate defense of the mother, consider that the speaker's feeling had to come from SOMEWHERE and that amount of pain and willingness for revenge cannot be wholly unfounded. The speaker's amount of humility and care necessary to even care for this woman who has obviously hurt him in some unspoken way is admirable, despite his obvious resentment. The ice cream resolution was truly a touching moment that I pray I will grow the heart to want to experience. Praise to Tony Hoagland for his willingness and ability to encapsulate all raw aspects of the human experience in his poetry. It does not go unnoticed. (Report)Reply

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  • (7/12/2015 8:36:00 AM)

    It IS sad. But also very real. Not all children have idyllic relationships with their oarents.. it gets very "real" when those parents age and are vulnerable. Not all children are motivated by love.. but moreso a desire to reclaim the power they feel wad stripped from them so long ago as well as a desire to be " good enough". Beautifully exposed. (Report)Reply

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  • Cynthia Buhain-baello (4/19/2012 7:43:00 PM)

    Very sad for the mother for a son to treat her as an enemy - she had hell of a life before she even died. Not a general way sons regard their mother, though, and the poem succeeded in bringing forth a disturbing theme. (Report)Reply

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  • (5/29/2007 3:10:00 PM)

    If God created humans, and God created language, then God created poetry.
    Perhaps this is the way that God has chosen to deal with 'such horrific feelings.'

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  • (5/4/2007 11:01:00 AM)

    I disagree. There is nothing that poetry cannot express, even if its a silent animosity. Well done. (Report)Reply

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  • Melvina Germain (2/26/2007 8:16:00 AM)

    A very sad and grusome poem indeed, I wonder what God thinks of the person in your poem that speaks of this poor Mother. Only God can deal with such horrific feelings. I feel pain for both people in your poem, the adult child and the Mother. They both need much prayer. This poem shows a great deal of pain, followed by sad imagry and also a profound message to parents around the world. Though very sad and harsh, it is full of painful truth.--Melvina-- (Report)Reply

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Read poems about / on: sorry, music, power, child, mother, water, dark, life, trust, children

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 20, 2003

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