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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.

Published in Dorianne Laux Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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