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The Hero’s Journey

October 16, 2012

by Tony Hoagland

It’s easy to make underdog poems sound patronising, political or worst of all, sentimental. Hoagland leaps over all that with one heroic metaphor.

From the New Yorker, October 16 2012.

The Hero’s Journey

I remember the first time I looked at the spotless marble floor
|     of a giant hotel lobby
|            and understood that someone had waxed and polished it all night.

and that someone else had pushed his cart of cleaning supplies
|     down the long air-conditioned corridors
|           of the Steinberg Building across the street.

and emptied all two hundred and forty- three wastebaskets
|     stopping now and then to scrape up the chewing gum
|           with a special flat-bladed tool
|                                                                                   he keeps in his back pocket.

It tempered my enthusiasm for “The Collected Sonnets of Hugh Pembley-Witherton”
|     and for Kurt von Heinzelmann’s “Epic of the Seekers for the Grail,”

Chapter 5, “The Trial” in which he describes how the
|    “tall and fair-complexioned “knight, Gawain,
|           makes camp one night beside a windblown cemetery

But cannot sleep for all the voices
|     rising up from underground –

Let him stay out there a hundred nights, the little wonder boy,
|     with his thin blanket and his cold armour and his useless sword,

until he understands exactly how
|     the glory of the protagonist is always paid for by a lot of secondary characters.

In the morning he will wake and gallop back to safety;
|     he will hear his name emblazoned into toasts and songs.

But now he knows there is a country he had not accounted for,
|    and that country has its citizens:

the one armed baker sweeping out his shop at 4 A.M.;

soldiers fitting every horse in Prague with diapers before the emperor’s arrival;

And that woman in the nursing home,
|    who has worked there for a thousand years,

taking away the bedpans,
|    lifting up and wiping off the soft heroic buttocks of Odysseus.

– Tony Hoagland

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tom Stoup permalink
    October 17, 2012 9:24 pm

    I love this poem. I speaks strongly to the 99%

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