(Photo by Jaya in Rishikesh, (C )J Ashmore 2010)
by Tony Hoagland If I knew I would be dead by this time next year I believe I would spend the months from now till then writing thank-you notes to strangers and acquaintances, telling them, “You really were a great travel agent,” or “I never got the taste of your kisses out of my mouth.” or “Watching you walk across the room was part of my destination.” It would be the equivalent, I think, of leaving a chocolate wrapped in shiny foil on the pillow of a guest in a hotel– “Hotel of earth, where we resided for some years together,” I start to say, before I realize it is a terrible cliche, and stop, and then go on, forgiving myself in a mere split second because now that I’m dying, I just go forward like water, flowing around obstacles and second thoughts, not getting snagged, just continuing with my long list of thank-yous, which seems to naturally expand to include sunlight and wind, and the aspen trees which gleam and shimmer in the yard as if grateful for being soaked last night by the irrigation system invented by an individual to whom I am quietly grateful. Outside it is autumn, the philosophical season, when cold air sharpens the intellect; the hills are red and copper in their shaggy majesty. The clouds blow overhead like governments and years. It took me a long time to understand the phrase “distant regard,” but I am grateful for it now, and I am grateful for my heart, that turned out to be good, after all; and grateful for my mind, to which, in retrospect, I can see I have never been sufficiently kind.
Many thanks to Mary Hill for sharing this poem with me.