This morning I woke up to another Tony Hoagland poem in my e-mail box, the Writers’ Almanac selection of the day. This evening I made it to the movies with my kids at last, Quartet at the Kendall Square Cinema following dinner at The Friendly Toast. In between my daughter and I made a trip to her chosen destination, All That Matters, returning with the van seats folded down and a piece of old painted wood waiting for a home. Later she tidied her room while I read to her from two delicious books, Songololo and Brian Selznik’s Wonderstruck, a request that hasn’t come from her in months. In between she had her first off site babysitting gig while I had time with her brother, who made us coffee, played music, read books, and talked, interspersed with time on each of our computers. I even found time to write to some friends and to read from my newest book, a collection of poems by Louise Gluck. Love in many forms.

We’ve moved the instruments back to the living room. What is living if not music anyway, opera, saxophone, electric guitar, pop, rap, folk?

On the way home from the movie near midnight, my son played music from his iphone in the van. I was astounded again that my children’s music makes sounds I enjoy, that my children often listen to music I first loved, Neutral Milk Hotel from both my boys for me tonight, Tracy Chapman for my daughter earlier in the week, Bob Dylan for my boy in the upcoming show. I wonder if what I listened to while the kids were in utero affected their brains, if the music streaming while their father cooked and I lay on the couch soaked into their heads, if the life we’ve lived together has predisposed us to our tastes.

In any case, Quartet was my daughter’s choice and we both loved it. You might, too. The Tony Hoagland poem is here below, in case you want to start and end your day with opera as I did. Odd to have a day so unplanned and so synchronistic. Some are that way.

My ten year old Honda Odyssey never sounded so good as it did this morning when I read the poem or this evening when Neutral Milk Hotel sang us home.


Honda Pavarotti

by Tony Hoagland

I’m driving on the dark highway

when the opera singer on the radio

opens his great mouth

and the whole car plunges down the canyon of his throat.

So the night becomes an aria of stars and exit signs

as I steer through the galleries

of one dilated Italian syllable

after another. I love the passages in which

the rich flood of the baritone

strains out against the walls of the esophagus,

and I love the pauses

in which I hear the tenor’s flesh labor to inhale

enough oxygen to take the next plummet

up into the chasm of the violins.

In part of the song, it sounds as if the singer

is being squeezed by an enormous pair of tongs

while his head and legs keep kicking.

In part of the song, it sounds as if he is

standing in the middle of a coliseum,

swinging a 300-pound lion by the tail,

the empire of gravity

conquered by the empire of aerodynamics,

the citadel of pride in flames

and the citizens of weakness

celebrating their defeat in chorus,

joy and suffering made one at last,

joined in everything a marriage is alleged to be,

though I know the woman he is singing for

is dead in a foreign language on the stage beside him,

though I know his chain mail is made of silver-painted plastic

and his mismanagement of money is legendary,

as I know I have squandered

most of my own life

in a haze of trivial distractions,

and that I will continue to waste it.

But wherever I was going, I don’t care anymore,

because no place I could arrive at

is good enough for this, this thing made out of experience

but to which experience will never measure up.

And that dark and soaring fact

is enough to make me renounce the whole world

or fall in love with it forever.

“Honda Pavarotti” by Tony Hoagland, from Donkey Gospel. © Graywolf Press, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)