/Laux/ (Dorianne Laux)

Short collection of Laux.


       We were afraid of everything: earthquakes,
       strangers, smoke above the canyon, the fire
       that would come running and eat up our house,
       the Claymore girls, big-boned, rough, razor blades
       tucked in their ratted hair. We were terrified

       of polio, tuberculosis, being found out, the tent
       full of boys two blocks over, the kick ball, the asphalt,
       the pain-filled rocks, the glass-littered canyon, the deep
       cave gouged in its side, the wheelbarrow crammed
       with dirty magazines, beer cans, spit-laced butts.

       We were afraid of hands, screen doors slammed
       by angry mothers, abandoned cars, their slumped
       back seats, the chain-link fence we couldn't climb
       fast enough, electrical storms, blackouts, girlfights
       behind the pancake house, Original Sin, sidewalk
       cracks and the corner crematorium, loose brakes
       on the handlebars of our bikes. It came alive

       behind our eyes: ant mounds, wasp nests, the bird
       half-eaten on the scratchy grass, chained dogs,
       the boggy creekbed, the sewer main that fed it,
       the game where you had to hold your breath
       until you passed out. We were afraid of being

       poor, dumb, yelled at, ignored, invisible
       as the nuclear dust we were told to wipe from lids
       before we opened them in the kitchen,
       the fat roll of meat that slid into the pot, sleep,
       dreams, the soundless swing of the father's
       ringed fist, the mother's face turned away, the wet
       bed, anything red, the slow leak, the stain
       on the driveway, oily gears
       soaking in a shallow pan, busted chairs stuffed
       in the rafters of the neighbor's garage, the Chevy's
       twisted undersides jacked up on blocks, wrenches
       left scattered in the dirt.

       It was what we knew best, understood least,
       it whipped through our bodies like fire or sleet.
       We were lured by the Dumpster behind the liquor store,
       fissures in the baked earth, the smell of singed hair,
       the brassy hum of high-tension towers, train tracks,
       buzzards over a ditch, black widows, the cat
       with one eye, the red spot on the back of the skirt,
       the fallout shelter's metal door hinged to the rusty
       grass, the back way, the wrong path, the night's
       wide back, the coiled bedsprings of the sister's
       top bunk, the wheezing, the cousin in the next room
       tapping on the wall, anything small.

       We were afraid of clothesline, curtain rods, the worn
       hairbrush, the good-for-nothings we were about to become,
       reform school, the long ride to the ocean on the bus,
       the man at the back of the bus, the underpass.

       We were afraid of fingers of pickleweed crawling
       over the embankment, the French Kiss, the profound
       silence of dead fish, burning sand, rotting elastic
       in the waistbands of our underpants, jellyfish, riptides,
       eucalyptus bark unraveling, the pink flesh beneath,
       the stink of seaweed, seagulls landing near our feet,
       their hateful eyes, their orange-tipped beaks stabbing
       the sand, the crumbling edge of the continent we stood on,
       waiting to be saved, the endless, wind-driven waves.

appeared at PoetryDaily.



There you are, exhausted from another night of crying,
curled up on the couch, the floor, at the foot of the bed,
anywhere you fall you fall down crying, half amazed
at what the body is capable of, not believing you can cry
anymore.  And there they are: his socks, his shirt, your
underwear, and your winter gloves, all in a loose pile
next to the bathroom door, and you fall down again.
Someday, years from now, things will be different:
the house clean for once, everything in its place, windows
shining, sun coming in easily now, skimming across
the thin glaze of wax on the wood floor.  You’ll be peeling
an orange or watching a bird leap from the edge of the rooftop
next door, noticing how, for instance, her body is trapped
in the air, only a moment before gathering the will to fly 
into the ruff at her wings, and then doing it: flying.
You’ll be reading, and for a moment you’ll see a word
you don’t recognize, a simple words like cup or gate or wisp
and you’ll ponder like a child discovering language.
Cup, you’ll say over and over until it begins to make sense,
and that’s when you’ll say it, for the first time, out loud: He’s dead.
He’s not coming back, and it will be the first time you believe it.



Someone I love is dying, which is why,
when I turn the key in the ignition
and the radio comes on, sudden and loud,
something by Haydn, a diminishing fugue,
then backed the car out of the parking space
in the underground garage, maneuvering through
the dimly lit tunnels, under low ceilings,
following yellow arrows stenciled at intervals
on grey cement walls and I think of him,
moving slowly through the last
hard day’s of his life, I won't
turn it off, and I can't stop crying.
When I arrive at the tollgate I have to make
myself stop thinking as I dig in my pockets
for the last of my coins, turn to the attendant,
indifferent in his blue smock, his white hair
curling like smoke around his weathered neck,
and say, Thank you, like an idiot, and drive
into the blinding midday light.
Everything is hideously symbolic:
the Chevron truck, its underbelly
spattered with road grit and the sweat
of last night’s rain, the Dumpster
behind the flower shop, sprung lid
pressed down on the dead wedding bouquets—
even the smell of something simple, coffee
drifting from the open door of a café;
and my eyes glaze over, ache in their sockets.
For months now all I’ve wanted is the blessing
of inattention, to move carefully from room to room
in my small house, numb with forgetfulness.
To eat a bowl of cereal and not image him,
drawn thin and pale, unable to swallow.
How not to imagine the tumors
ripening beneath his skin, flesh
I have kissed, stroked with my fingertips,
pressed my belly and breasts against, some nights
so hard I thought I could enter him, open
his back at the spine like a door or a curtain
and slip in like a small fish between his ribs,
nudge the coral of his brain with my lips,
brushing over the blue coils of his bowels
with the fluted silk of my tail.
Death is not romantic. He is dying. That fact
is start and one-dimensional, a black note
on an empty staff. My feet are cold,
but not as cold as his, and I hate this music
that floods the cramped insides
of my car, my head, slowing the world down
with its lurid majesty, transforming
everything I see into stained memorials
to life—even the old Ford ahead of me,
its battered rear end thinned to scallops of rust,
pumping grim shrouds of exhaust
into the shimmering air—even the tenacious
nasturtiums clinging to a fence, stem and bloom
of the insignificant, music spooling
from their open faces, spilling upward, past
the last rim of the blue and into the back pool
of another galaxy. As if all that emptiness
were a place of benevolence, a destination,
a peace we could rise to. 


For Al 

His voice, toward the end, was a soft coal breaking
open in the little stove of his heart. One day
he just let go and the birds stopped singing.

Then the other deaths came on, as if by permission—
beloved teacher, cousin, a lover slipped from my life
the way a rope slithers from your grip, the ocean
folding over it, your fingers stripped of flesh. A deck

of cards worn smooth at a kitchen table, the jack
of spades laid down at last, his face thumbed to threads.
An ashtray full of pebbles on the window ledge, wave-beaten,
gathered at day’s end from a beach your mind has never left,

then a starling climbs the pine outside—
the cat’s black paw, the past shattered, the stones
rolled the their favorite-hidden places. Even the poets

I had taken to my soul: Levis, Matthews, Levertov—
the books of poetry, lost or stolen, left on airport benches,
shabby trade paperbacks of my childhood, the box
misplaced, the one suitcase that mattered crushed

to nothing in the belly of a train. I took a rubbing
of the carved wings and lilies from a headstone
outside Philadelphia, frosted gin bottles
stationed like soldiers on her grave:

The Best Blues Singer in the World
Will Never Stop Singing.

How many losses does it take to stop a heart,
to lay waste to the vocabularies of desire?
Each one came rushing through the rooms he left.
Mouths open. Last words flown up into the trees.

~ by Jeremy on March 10, 2008.

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