Poet's Choice: "The Story of White People" by Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland.jpg"The Story of White People" is one of a dozen or so poems I've written on the subject of race in America, that toxic reservoir over which our playgrounds and city halls are built. I've tried to make the poems explorations unhindered by the hedging and filling of political corrrectness or middle class Caucasian guilt. Most of the poems use a strategy of crooked speech to vocalize the deep uneasiness and confusion white Americans feel towards brown Americans; the poems try to have dark fun with the verbal taboos and truths of what one of the poems calls "Negrophobia." After all, we all know and feel a lot more than we pretend to, and our arrested speech is the essence of our arrested consciousness. In "The Story of White People," I thought I would write in the other direction, looking at what we generally feel now about the changing status of whiteness.

The Story of White People

After so long seeming right, as in
true, as in clean, as in smart,
being smart enough at least
not to be born some other color

after so long being visitors
from the galaxy Caucasia
now they are starting to seem a little

deficient; leached-out, spent, colorless;
thin-blooded, indefinite-
as in being too far and too long
removed from the original source
of whiteness;

suffering from a slight amnesia
in the way that skim milk can barely
remember the cow

and this change in status is
mysterious, indifferent, and objective
as when, at the beginning of winter,
the light shifts its angle of attention

from the mulberry to the cottonwood.
Just another change of season,
not that dramatic or perceptible

but to all of us, it feels different.

_______________________________________

Tony Hoagland, "The Story of White People" from "Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty." Copyright 2009 by Tony Hoagland. Used by permission of Graywolf Press.

By Ron Charles |  February 9, 2010; 9:29 PM ET Poet's Choice
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