Three Poems – Joanna Hoffman


Graduation Advice

You don’t have to know
what you’re doing with
your life, at least in the
way great aunts mean
when they ask the
question at Thanksgiving
dinner. You can answer,
I’m trying to consume
every flavor of frozen
yogurt in New York 
City, or I’m mastering
my online dating swagger
or I’m trying to make
my cat Internet Famous,
and all of these are both 
true and viable answers. 
You can be over thirty
and not have a permanent
mailing address or an
idea of whether or not
you’ll ever have kids.
All you have to do
is be the kind of person
you would want your
niece to ask for help
if she were ever lost
and afraid. The kindness
of strangers is sometimes
my best reason for wanting
to be alive. On the rush 
hour train, a man steps
on my feet and pushes
aside a pregnant woman
to sit down. But then
a teenage boy stands
and smiles sweetly
when she thanks him.
He doesn’t say,
you’re welcome.
He just nods and fades
into the train crowd and
he is not a hero, but humans
just aren’t human like we 
used to be and so I find
myself wanting to smile
at him. I fall off my bike
and no one says a word,
but I drop a crumpled up
receipt and a man runs
after me. O thank you,
I say, and he beams
as if this were his one
good deed for the week,
and I want to say, good
human. But more often,
I want to say it to myself,
because I won’t pretend
I’m not a dog drooling
for the treat. What am
I doing with my life? 
Looking for the next
scrap of sweetness.
Holding my hands
up to the sun. This
was the longest
winter I can remember.
My best friend almost
died in a car crash,
but didn’t. My mom
finished chemo and
her hair grew back 
in. My long term plan
is happy hour. My short
term plan is happy minute.
I’m trying to teach my
neurosis to play dead.
It’s okay to not know
what the fuck you’re
doing. It’s Spring
and finally, I can
feel the sun.

I Don’t Want to Disappear

This Ambien is a voluntary eclipse;
the softest exit from the rusted belly
of a dead, floating whale. I grew up
believing Care Bears were furry little
Gods—when they watered the clouds,
it rained. When they bowled, thunder.
And O, how the Care Bear Stare made
my own belly shine every time I wished
a motherfucker would. Tenderheart
Bear, I hope I dream of you, you 
benevolent little marshall of the sky. 
Please float me home. Please don’t
let me disappear. Don’t let fear be 
the anthem of my beginning and my 
end. Please God. Please TenderHeart Bear.
Please Cheer Bear and FunShine Bear.
Whoever and whatever you are. Please God
that I am to myself. Please pull the strings.
Please save a life. Please let the landing
be so soft, I wake up already
on the ground.

Everything I Know About Loving
I Learned From My Father

My father never lifts a fork
til my mother does. If her fish
comes out with seasoning, his steak
goes back also. If my wife doesn’t
eat, I don’t eat, he told 8 year-old me.
When we went to our first 3D movie
as a family, my mom was the
only one to reach for the birds,
gasping in gulps of joy. That’s
why I fell in love with her, he told
10 year-old me. When she had
chemo treatments, he fell down
the stairs at the hospital and
bruised his hip but never told her.
I don’t want mama to worry, he told
31 year-old me. When he gets out
of the car, he reaches for her hand
as if it might steady both of them.


About Joanna Hoffman

Joanna Hoffman is a poet and teaching artist living in Brooklyn, New York. She has been on five National Poetry Slam teams. In 2011, she represented Urbana at the 2011 Women of the World Poetry Slam (WOWPS), National Poetry Slam, and Individual World Poetry Slam, placing in the top 10 at all three. In 2012, she was the Urbana Grand Slam champion, 4th place finalist at the 2012 Women of the World Poetry Slam, and the 2012 champion of Capturing Fire, the international queer poetry competition. Her work has appeared in decomP, PANK, Union Station Magazine, The Legendary, Spindle, Sinister Wisdom and in the anthologies Women’s Work and Milk and Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry. Her full-length book of poetry, Running for Trap Doors, was recently released by Sibling Rivalry Press. She has been nominated for a Pushcart and a Lambda Literary Award. When not performing poems, Joanna works at a nonprofit, bikes around Brooklyn and tries to convince her cat to wear bow ties. View all posts by Joanna Hoffman

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