The Change

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine. 
In the park the daffodils came up 
and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes—

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies, 
        and the new president proves that he's a dummy.

But remember the tennis match we watched that year? 
Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde 
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama, 
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms, 
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite—

We were just walking past the lounge 
     and got sucked in by the screen above the bar, 
and pretty soon 
we started to care about who won,

putting ourselves into each whacked return 
as the volleys went back and forth and back 
like some contest between 
the old world and the new,

and you loved her complicated hair 
and her to-hell-with-everybody stare, 
and I, 
         I couldn't help wanting
the white girl to come out on top, 
because she was one of my kind, my tribe, 
with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big 
and so black, 
                        so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation 
down Abraham Lincoln's throat, 
like she wasn't asking anyone's permission.

There are moments when history 
passes you so close 
                you can smell its breath, 
you can reach your hand out 
                                    and touch it on its flank,

and I don't watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre, 
but I could feel the end of an era there

in front of those bleachers full of people 
in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes

as that black girl wore down her opponent 
then kicked her ass good 
then thumped her once more for good measure

and stood up on the red clay court 
holding her racket over her head like a guitar.

And the little pink judge 
                          had to climb up on a box 
to put the ribbon on her neck, 
still managing to smile into the camera flash, 
even though everything was changing

and in fact, everything had already changed—

Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone, 
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged, 
it was past us 
and we were changed.



Listen to Claudia Rankine respond to Hoagland's poem >

From What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.