Somewhere, someone is asking a question,
and I stand squinting at the classroom
with one hand cupped behind my ear,
trying to figure out where that voice is coming from.

I might be already an old man,
attempting to recall the night
his hearing got misplaced,
front-row-center at a battle of the bands,

where a lot of leather-clad, second-rate musicians,   
amped up to dinosaur proportions,
test drove their equipment through our ears.   
Each time the drummer threw a tantrum,

the guitarist whirled and sprayed us with machine-gun riffs,   
as if they wished that they could knock us
quite literally dead.
We called that fun in 1970,

when we weren’t sure our lives were worth surviving.
I’m here to tell you that they were,   
and many of us did, despite ourselves,   
though the road from there to here

is paved with dead brain cells,
parents shocked to silence,
and squad cars painting the whole neighborhood   
the quaking tint and texture of red jelly.

Friends, we should have postmarks on our foreheads   
to show where we have been;
we should have pointed ears, or polka-dotted skin   
to show what we were thinking

when we hot-rodded over God’s front lawn,   
and Death kept blinking.
But here I stand, an average-looking man   
staring at a room

where someone blond in braids   
with a beautiful belief in answers   
is still asking questions.

Through the silence in my dead ear,   
I can almost hear the future whisper   
to the past: it says that this is not a test   
and everybody passes.

  • Tony Hoagland, “Memory As a Hearing Aid” from Donkey Gospel. Copyright © 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota,

  • Source: Donkey Gospel (1998)

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