Saturday, April 13, 2013

Analysis of "Perpetual Motion" by Tony Hoagland

Perpetual Motion
Tony Hoagland

In a little while I’ll be drifting up an on-ramp,
sipping coffee from a styrofoam container,
checking my gas gauge with one eye
and twisting the dial of the radio
with the fingers of my third hand,
Looking for a station I can steer to Saturn on.

It seems I have the traveling disease
again, an outbreak of that virus
celebrated by the cracked lips
of a thousand blues musicians—song
about a rooster and a traintrack,
a sunrise and a jug of cherry cherry wine.

It's the kind of perceptual confusion
that makes your loved ones into strangers,
that makes a highway look like a woman
with air conditioned arms. With a
bottomless cup of coffee for a mouth
and jewelry shaped like pay phone booths
dripping from her ears.

In a little while the radio will
almost have me convinced
that I am doing something romantic,
something to do with “freedom” and “becoming”
instead of fright and flight into
an anonymity so deep

it has no bottom,
only signs to tell you what direction
you are falling in: CHEYENNE, SEATTLE,
WICHITA, DETROIT—Do you hear me,
do you feel me moving through?
With my foot upon the gas,
between the future and the past,
I am here—
here where the desire to vanish
is stronger than the desire to appear.

My Take:

The narrator of the poem is going to start on a car journey. He wants to go very far -- he says he wants to go to Saturn. Perhaps he just wants to escape his life, his now. He just wants to go. Its a feeling that he has no control over. Its like a disease he has contracted. Perhaps he is inflicted by pessimism, because it is an outbreak that is celebrated by blues musicians.

He is so pessimistic that loved ones have become strangers. Thats an interesting point because we often hear about how optimism -- the walt whitman kind of optimism -- the optimism that can convert strangers into friends. Pessimism converts loved ones into strangers -- another clue that thats what has happened to the narrator.

He tries to escape his life, his friends, his loved ones, his now. And instead befriends the highway. A new path. This new path looks enticing, sexy -- like a girl with comfortable, air-conditioned arms. Phone booths which can be used to call his friends now appear like jewelry -- present not for the sake of connecting with the old loved ones, but as show pieces merely present to decorate the new enticements.

The radio helps in the escape. The songs playing give the false feeling that the narrator is not running from life, but being free. Doing something romantic -- something connected with love and passion. The narrator is moving.

The last few lines are beautiful:
Do you hear me,
do you feel me moving through?
With my foot upon the gas,
between the future and the past,
I am here—
here where the desire to vanish
is stronger than the desire to appear.

The narrator is trying to escape his past. His desire is to vanish not to be present. And the title confirms that this motion -- this desire to move away from the past -- is not something that is there now. It has always been there. It is perpetual.

What's with this extreme renunciation taught by so called new age masters. Renounce the past, the future, and the near and dear ones/the family. This seems as wrong now as it always has been. There is no peace or pleasure in renunciation. There is peace and pleasure in acceptance.

This character of Tony Hoagland's poem, "Perpetual Motion" talks about how he, disgusted by his life and loved ones, sets off on a journey, a perpetual journey to nowhere. The only love in his life is the highway. He loves the path and forgets everything else. He is moving between the past and his future, and despite being in the now, he is obviously diseased by pessimism.

And it is possible that this renunciation comes from pessimism. When you are unhappy that you cannot attain enough, you think maybe by giving up everything you will be happier. Are you. You are not.

That is like shutting your eyes and assuming no one can see you. If you shut down your eyes, if you forget your past, and you don't dream of your future, it does not change where you are.

The true spiritual pathway is inclusive. It includes a path, a highway. But it also includes loved ones. It's not about the blues of life. Its about a celebration. A colorful celebration. The purpose of life is to sing.