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Richard Hoffman


after Vallejo

Not long ago, the Cassini spacecraft, carrying 72 lbs of plutonium, came within 125 miles of earth’s surface. Had its rockets misfired it would have burned up in the atmosphere. A single pound of plutonium released into the atmosphere would provide a lethal dose of radiation for every human being on the planet,

and I should write about the water-lilies here and the snapping turtles and the Great Blue Heron who arrived while I was having coffee on the deck?

The International Red Cross reported that American troops and attendant private security forces sexually assaulted hundreds of children at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers in Iraq. The news media chose not to focus attention on this aspect of the report, and it was missing even from the articles Seymour Hersch published in the New Yorker although Hersch had earlier told the ACLU that the hardest part of viewing the tapes of this torture was hearing the screams of young boys being sodomized, and the wailing of their mothers forced to witness,

and I should make a list of places to send my poems where they might be noticed for the prize anthologies?

The New York Times reported a study of the meta-data on climate change predicts that, if current trends continue, by the year 2045 the coolest day in New York City will be warmer than the hottest day now on record. The study does not suggest what other meteoric and ecological consequences will ensue. Nor does it tell us in which year between now and then snow will cease falling forever,

and I should swivel the syntax in the third line of my triolet to rhyme with the capital A rhymes?

A baby in a disposable diaper, the corpse of a baby in a disposable diaper, washed ashore just south of three other children's bodies, bellies swollen with seawater, on the beach at a Mediterranean resort,

and I had thought my house was brick, and I had thought my people good, and I had thought I had outgrown delusion...


My country wonders at the looks it gets.

It likes to hang around the Army/Navy store,

admiring this uniform and that insignia,

badges and big blocky numbers for everyone,

singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" off-key.

Whatever it wants to do it does with money.

With a gun from its collection, it shot itself

right smack in the history. It can't remember.

Something's been stolen but it can't say what.

It can't remember so everything happens now.

It likes to hang around the Army/Navy store,

admiring this uniform and that insignia,

badges and big blocky numbers for everyone,

singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" off-key.


Bullshit and lies

in their black suits

ringing doorbells,

(I did that. I was that

kind of salesman

blustering not to beg,

trying to make the rent

or spread the word

or move the units

or get out the vote

or save the planet

or leave a pamphlet):

"Me and my partner

were given the secret

to a happy life

and felt it was selfish

not to tell you

so we stopped by.

May we come in?

We won't stay long.

You have our word."


Richard Hoffman is the author of three poetry collections: Without Paradise; Gold Star Road, winner of the 2006 Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize and the New England Poetry Club’s Sheila Motton Book Award; and his latest, Emblem. His prose works include the celebrated Half the House: a Memoir, published in a 20th Anniversary Edition this year; Interference & Other Stories; and his new memoir, Love & Fury. He is Senior Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College.

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