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Category archive for: Dorianne Laux

Last Words

      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 to their forever-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.

from What We CarryFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1994
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

The Shipfitter’s Wife

I loved him most

when he came home from work,

his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,

his denim shirt ringed with sweat,

smelling of salt, the drying weeds

of the ocean. I’d go to 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

and 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.

from SmokeFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2000
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

The Job

      for Tobey

When my friend lost her little finger

between the rollers of a printing press,

I hadn’t met her yet. It must have taken

months for the stump to heal, skin stretched

and stitched over bone, must have taken

years before she could consider it calmly,

as she does now in an airport café

over a cup of black coffee.

She doesn’t complain or blame the unguarded

machine, the noise of the factory, the job

with its long unbroken hours.

She simply opens her damaged hand and studies

the emptiness, the loss

of symmetry and flesh, and tells me

it was a small price to pay,

that her missing finger taught her

to take more care with her life,

with what she reaches out

to touch, to stay awake when she’s awake

and listen, to pay attention

to what’s turning in the world.

from What We CarryFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1994
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

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