-Tony Hoagland, "Dialectical Materialism"
I was thinking about dialectical materialism at the supermarket,
strolling among the Chilean tomatoes and the Filipino pineapples,
admiring the Washington-state apples stacked in perfect pyramid displays
by the ebony man from Zimbabwe wearing the Chicago Bulls t-shirt.
I was seeing the whole produce section
as a system of cross-referenced signifiers
in a textbook of historical economics
and the fine spray that misted the vegetables
was like the cool mist of style imposed on meaning.
It was one of those days
when interpretation is brushing its varnish over everything
when even the birds are speaking complete sentences
and the sun is a brassy blond novelist of immense accomplishment
dictating her new blockbuster
to a stenographer who types at the speed of light
and publishes each page as fast as it is written.
There was cornbread rising in the bakery department
and in its warm aroma I believed that I could smell
the exhaled breath of vanished Iroquois,
their journey west and
delicate withdrawal into the forests,
whereas by comparison
the coarse-grained wheat baguettes
seemed to irrepressibly exude
the sturdy sweat and labor of eighteenth-century Europe.
My god there is so much sorrow in the grocery store!
You would have to be high
on the fumes of the piped-in pan flutes
of commodified Peruvian folk music
not to be driven practically crazy
with awe and shame,
not to weep at the scale of subjugated matter:
the ripped-up etymologies of kiwi fruit and bratwurst,
the roads paved with dead languages,
the jungles digested by foreign money.
It’s the owners, I said to myself;
it’s the horrible juggernaut of progress;
but the cilantro in my hand
opened up its bitter minty ampoule underneath my nose
and the bossa nova muzak charmed me like a hypnotist
and the pretty cashier with the shaved head and nose ring
said, Have a nice day.
as I burst with my groceries through the automatic doors
into the open air,
where I found myself in a giant parking lot
at a mega-mall outside of Minneapolis,
where in row E 87
a Ford Escort from Mankato
had just had a fender-bender with a Honda from Miami;
and these personified portions of my heart, the drivers,
were standing there
in the gathering Midwestern granular descending dusk
waiting for the troopers to fill out the accident report,
with the rotating red light of the squad car
whipping in circles above them,
splashing their shopped-out middle-aged faces
with war paint the hue of cherry Gatorade
and each of them was thinking
how with dialectical materialism, accidents happen:
how at any minute,
convenience can turn
into a kind of trouble you never wanted.