Poetry from Web Del Sol

The Poetry of Dorianne Laux, Part 4


When I think of the years he drank, the scars
on his chin, his thinning hair, his eye that still weeps
decades after the blow, my knees weaken with gratitude
for whatever kept him safe, whatever stopped
the glass from cracking and shearing something vital,
the fist from lowering, exploding an artery, pressing
the clot of blood toward the back of his brain.
Now, he sits calmly on the couch, reading,
refusing to wear the glasses I bought him,
holding the open book at arm's length from his chest.
Behind him the windows are smoky with mist
and the tile floor is pushing its night chill
up through the bare soles of his feet. I like to think
he survived in order to find me, in order
to arrive here, sober, tired from a long night
of tongues and hands and thighs, music
on the radio, coffee-- so he could look up and see me,
standing in the kitchen in his torn t-shirt,
the hem of it brushing my knees, but I know
it's only luck that brought him here, luck
and a love that had nothing to do with me,
except that this is what we sometimes get if we live
long enough, if we are patient with our lives.


Sweet Jesus, let her save you, let her take
your hands and hold them to her breasts,
slip the sandals from your feet, lay your body down
on sheets beaten clean against the fountain stones.
Let her rest her dark head on your chest,
let her tongue lift the hairs like a sword tip
parting the reeds, let her lips burnish
your neck, let your eyes be wet with pleasure.
Let her keep you from that other life, as a mother
keeps a child from the brick lip of a well,
though the rope and bucket shine and clang,
though the water's hidden silk and mystery call.
Let her patter soothe you and her passions
distract you, let her show you the light
storming the windows of her kitchen, peaches
in a wooden bowl, a square of blue cloth
she has sewn to her skirt to cover the tear.
What could be more holy than the curve of her back
as she sits, her hands opening a plum.
What could be more sacred than her eyes,
fierce and complicated as the truth, your life
rising behind them, your name on her lips.
Stay there, in her bare house, the black pots
hung from pegs, bread braided and glazed
on the table, a clay jug of violet wine.
There is the daily sacrament of rasp and chisel,
another chair to be made, shelves to be hewn
cleanly and even and carefully joined
to the sun-scrubbed walls, a sharp knife
for carving odd chunks of wood into small toys
for the children. Oh Jesus, close your eyes
and listen to it, the air is alive with bird calls
and bees, the dry rustle of palm leaves,
her distracted song as she washes her feet.
Let your death be quiet and ordinary.
Either life you choose will end in her arms.


Since this morning he's gone through
an entire box of Safeway matches, the ones
with the outlines of presidents' faces
printed in red, white and blue.
He's not satisfied with one match at a time.
He likes to tip the book over the ashtray
and light them all up at once, the flame
less than an inch from his fingertips
while the fathers of the nation burn.
He doesn't care about democracy,
or even anarchy, or the message inside
that promises art school for half price
if he'll simply complete the profile of a woman
and send it in. The street address burns,
zip code and phone number, the birth
and death dates of the presidents,
the woman's unfinished face. I'm afraid
he'll do this when I'm not around to keep him
from torching the curtains, the couch.
He strikes match after match, a small pyre rising
from the kitchen table. I think I should tell him
about Prometheus and the vulture, the wildfires
now burning in the Oregon hills.
I want to do what I'm supposed to
and make him afraid, but his face
shines, bright with power,
and I can't take my eyes from the light.


I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat
and smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I would go to him where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles,
his calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I'd open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me-- the ship's
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull's silver ribs, spark of lead
kissing metal, the clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle
and the long drive home.