Dorianne Laux

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Dorianne Laux (1952 – ) is a poet whose attention to detail is a trademark – and who somehow is always able to take the ordinary and lift it through her lyric virtuosity into something extraordinary – as if seen for the first time. Whether writing a poem about making love to husband, stealing a lighter from a store or the human heart her words create an “isness” which the poet B.H. Fairchild says is the trademark of true poetry.

Laux grew up with a love of words, their music and they sustained her in the grit-and-bruise times during her late teens and into her thirties when she brought up a daughter alone and worked as a cook, gas station manager, maid and doughnut holer. When she 36 she graduated with a university degree in English and currently teaches at North Carolina State University.

Laux is the author of five full-length collections of poems, her latest, in 2011, The Book of Men published by W.W. Norton. Also she co-authored, with Kim Addonizio, The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (1997), one of my favorites of this genre. Her many honours include The Oregon Book Award and a Pushcart Prize. She was also short-listed for The National Book Circle Critics Award.

It would be easy to fill this space with countless examples of her poems. Instead here are three favourites. For more examples of her poems please check out my Blog Post – No Ordinary Luminary – Dorianne Laux.

What’s Broken

the slate black sky. The middle step
of the back porch. And long ago

my mother’s necklace, the beads
rolling north and south. Broken
the rose stem, water into drops, glass
knob on the bedroom door. Last summer’s

pot of parsley and mint, white roots
shooting like streamers through the cracks.

Years ago the cat’s tail, the bird bath,
the car hood’s rusted latch. Broken

little finger on my right hand at birth –
I was pulled out too fast. What hasn’t

been rent, divided, split? Broken
the days into nights, the night sky

into stars, the stars into patterns
I make up as I trace them

with a broken-off blade
of grass. Possible, unthinkable,

the cricket’s tiny back as I lie
on the lawn in the dark, my heart

a blue cup fallen from someone’s hands.

from Facts About the Moon, W.W. Norton, 2007


They are kissing, on a park bench,
on the edge of an old bed, in a doorway
or on the floor of a church. Kissing
as the streets fill with balloons
or soldiers, locusts or confetti, water
or fire or dust. Kissing down through
the centuries under sun or stars, a dead tree,
an umbrella, amid derelicts. Kissing
as Christ carries his cross, as Gandhi
sings his speeches, as a bullet
careens through the air toward a child’s
good heart. They are kissing,
long, deep, spacious kisses, exploring
the silence of the tongue, the mute
rungs of the upper palate, hungry
for the living flesh. They are still
kissing when the cars crash and the bombs
drop, when the babies are born crying
into the white air, when Mozart bends
to his bowl of soup and Stalin
bends to his garden. They are kissing
to begin the world again. Nothing
can stop them. They kiss until their lips
swell, their thick tongues quickening
to the budded touch, licking up
the sweet juices. I want to believe
they are kissing to save the world,
but they’re not. All they know
is this press and need, these two-legged
beasts, their faces like roses crushed
together and opening, they are covering
their teeth, they are doing what they have to do
to survive the worst, they are sealing
the hard words in, they are dying
for our sins. In a broken world they are
practicing this simple and singular act
to perfection. They are holding
onto each other. They are kissing.
from What We Carry, BOA Editions, 1994


Kissing Again
By Dorianne Laux

Kissing again, after a long drought of
not kissing—too many kids, bills, windows
needing repair. Sex, yes, though squeezed in
between the minor depths of anger, despair—
standing up amid the laundry
or fumbling onto the strip of rug between
the coffee table and the couch. Quick, furtive,
like birds. A dance on the wing, but no time
for kissing, the luxuriant tonguing of another
spongy tongue, the deft flicking and feral sucking,
that prolonged lapping that makes a smooth stone
of the brain. To be lost in it, your body tumbled
in sea waves, no up or down, just salt
and the liquid swells set in motion
by the moon, by a tremor in Istanbul, the waft
of a moth wing before it plows into a halo of light.
Praise the deep lustrous kiss that lasts minutes,
blossoms into what feels like days, fields of tulips
glossy with dew, low purple clouds piling in
beneath the distant arch of a bridge. One
after another they storm your lips, each kiss
a caress, autonomous and alive, spilling
into each other, streams into creeks into rivers
that grunt and break upon the gorge. Let the tongue,
in its wisdom, release its stores, let the mouth,
tired of talking, relax into its shapes of give
and receive, its plush swelling, its slick
round reveling, its primal reminiscence
that knows only the one robust world.


from Facts About the Moon, 2007

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