For Tony Hoagland, 1953-2018
I can see it, even though it’s different
from the one I spot
in a Ponderosa Pine today.
I can see the oak walls of Tony’s birdhouse,
spread out on a table
in his backyard,
before he made it;
before he created a space for others
to feel welcome in, like he did for me
when I moved from the heartland
to the desert:
a public library’s worth
of magazines and books
for me to read and keep;
a bicycle to ride,
so I could get around
and see Yuccas, Pecan trees,
Lombardy Poplars, feral cats, roadrunners,
and grackles coexisting with ease.
I can’t tell Tony any of this, which makes me cry.
But I can feel him in the ponderosa; his gifts
of friendship, kindness,
and generosity, spinning in the wheels of my mountain
bike, as I shift gears and push
up this steep hill, which is what I have done
all of my life: persist,
whether it’s because of family estrangement,
a romance gone sour, confusion,
the end of a remission, or the death
of a dear friend.
I can persevere better because of Tony,
because of his poems,
especially the one about the birdhouse,
where I can imagine the trills
of Pine Warblers; the sweet talk of finches
in the comfort of their new homes;
speaking and singing from their hearts;
like Tony in his works of art,
all made and perfected from the core
of his donkey soul, as is the case
with the one I see today, swaying
in the breeze, and I taste
the ponderosa bark, sweet with vanilla; I hear
and smell a fragrant whisper
of honeysuckle; a vine
twisted on a wooden, indigo handrail.
Joey Nicoletti’s latest book is Boombox Serenade, which is forthcoming later this year from BlazeVOX Press. He teaches creative writing at SUNY Buffalo State.