Sunday at the Mall

by Tony Hoagland
Featured Art: Crouching Woman – Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix

Sweetheart, if I suddenly flop over in the mall one afternoon
while taking my old-person-style exercise
and my teeth are chattering like castanets,
and my skull is going nok nonk nok on the terra cotta tiles
of the well-swept mall floor;

my tongue stuck out, my eyes rolled up in my head—
Don’t worry, baby, we knew this kind of excitement
might possibly occur,
and that’s not me in there anyway—

I’m already flying backwards, high and fast
into the big arcades and spaces of my green life
where I made and gave away and traded sentences with people I loved
that made us all laugh and rise up in
unpredictable torrents of fuchsia.

Dial 911, or crouch down by the body if you want—
but sweetheart, the main point I’m making here is:
don’t worry don’t worry don’t worry:
Those wild birds will never be returning
to any roost in this world.
They’re loose, and gone, and free as oxygen.
Don’t despair there, under the frosted glass skylight,
in front of the Ethiopian restaurant
with the going-out-of-business sign.

Because sweetheart, this life
is a born escape artist,
a migrating fever,
a convict tattooed in invisible ink,
without mercy or nostalgia.
It came down to eat a lot of red licorice
and to adore you imperfectly,
and to stare at the big silent moon
as hard as it could,
then to swoop out just before closing time
right under the arm of the security guard
who pulls down the big metal grate
and snaps shut the lock in its hasp
as if it, or he, could ever imagine
anything that could prevent anything.

Tony Hoagland’s latest collections of poems are Recent Changes in the Vernacular (Tres Chicas Books, 2017) and Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (Gray- wolf, 2018). His book of essays, The Art of Voice: Poetic Principles and Practice (Norton), was published in March 2019. “Sunday at the Mall,” included here, was also known as “Last Poem for Kath.” Tony Hoagland died in October 2018.

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