“Staff Sgt. Metz” by Dorianne Laux

Metz is alive for now, standing in line
at the airport Starbucks in his camo gear
and buzz cut, his beautiful new
camel-colored suede boots. His hands
are thick-veined. The good blood
still flows through, given an extra surge
when he slurps his latte, a fleck of foam
caught on his bottom lip.

I can see into the canal in his right ear,
a narrow darkness spiraling deep inside his head
toward the place of dreaming and fractions,
ponds of quiet thought.

In the sixties my brother left for Vietnam,
a war no one understood, and I hated him for it.
When my boyfriend was drafted I made a vow
to write a letter every day, and then broke it.
I was a girl torn between love and the idea of love.
I burned their letters in the metal trash bin
behind the broken fence. It was the summer of love
and I wore nothing under my cotton vest,
my Mexican skirt.

I see Metz later, outside baggage claim,
hunched over a cigarette, mumbling
into his cell phone. He’s more real to me now
than my brother was to me then, his big eyes
darting from car to car as they pass.
I watch him breathe into his hands.

I don’t believe in anything anymore:
god, country, money or love.
All that matters to me now
is his life, the body so perfectly made,
mysterious in its workings, its oiled
and moving parts, the whole of him
standing up and raising one arm
to hail a bus, his legs pulling him forward,
all the muscle and sinew and living gristle,
the countless bones of his foot trapped in his boot,
stepping off the red curb.

“Staff Sgt. Metz” by Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men: Poems. © W.W. Norton, 2011.

“Family Stories” by Dorianne Laux

I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.

“Family Stories” by Dorianne Laux, from Smoke. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000.

“Antilamentation” by Dorianne Laux (repost)

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not
the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not
the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punch line, the door or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the window.
Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.
Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here,
under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

~ Dorianne Laux, from The Book of Men: Poems

(With thanks to Maria at BrainPickings)

 

originally posted: 8/30/2014

“Trying to Raise the Dead” by Dorianne Laux (repost)

Look at me. I’m standing on a deck
in the middle of Oregon. There are
friends inside the house. It’s not my

house, you don’t know them.
They’re drinking and singing
and playing guitars. You love

this song, remember, “Ophelia,”
Boards on the windows, mail
by the door. I’m whispering

so they won’t think I’m crazy.
They don’t know me that well.
Where are you now? I feel stupid.

I’m talking to trees, to leaves
swarming on the black air, stars
blinking in and out of heart-

shaped shadows, to the moon, half-
lit and barren, stuck like an axe
between the branches. What are you

now? Air? Mist? Dust? Light?
What? Give me something. I have
to know where to send my voice.

A direction. An object. My love, it needs
a place to rest. Say anything. I’m listening.
I’m ready to believe. Even lies, I don’t care.

Say burning bush. Say stone. They’ve
stopped singing now and I really should go.
So tell me, quickly. It’s April. I’m

on Spring Street. That’s my gray car
in the driveway. They’re laughing
and dancing. Someone’s bound

to show up soon. I’m waving.
Give me a sign if you can see me.
I’m the only one here on my knees.

–Dorianne Laux, Smoke

originally posted: 4/20/14

 

(I will be on a digital hiatus/detox during October. I’ll be running a collection of previously posted material from 2014, the first year of Words. Hopefully it will be new or nearly new to most of you. I may be slow to reply to comments or emails that need response. Thanks for understanding, xo, Christy)

“Moon in the Window” by Dorianne Laux

I wish I could say I was the kind of child
who watched the moon from her window,
would turn toward it and wonder.
I never wondered. I read. Dark signs
that crawled toward the edge of the page.
It took me years to grow a heart
from paper and glue. All I had
was a flashlight, bright as the moon,
a white hole blazing beneath the sheets.

Dorianne Laux, from Facts About the Moon