When I was young and had to rise at 5 am
I did not look at the lamplight slicing
through the blinds and say: Once again
I have survived the night. I did not raise
my two hands to my face and whisper:
This is the miracle of my flesh. I walked
toward the cold water waiting to be released
and turned the tap so I could listen to it
thrash through the rusted pipes.
I cupped my palms and thought of nothing.
I dressed in my blue uniform and went to work.
I served the public, looked down on its
balding skulls, the knitted shawls draped
over its cancerous shoulders, and took its orders,
wrote up or easy or scrambled or poached
in the yellow pads’ margins and stabbed it through
the tip of the fry cook’s deadly planchette.
Those days I barely had a pulse. The manager
had vodka for breakfast, the busboys hid behind
the bleach boxes from the immigration cops,
and the head waitress took ten percent
of our tips and stuffed them in her pocket
with her cigarettes and lipstick. My feet
hurt. I balanced the meatloaf-laden trays.
Even the tips of my fingers ached.
I thought of nothing except sleep, a T.V. set’s
flickering cathode gleam washing over me,
baptizing my greasy body in its watery light.
And money, slipping the tassel of my coin purse
aside, opening the silver clasp, staring deep
into that dark sacrificial abyss.
What can I say about that time, those years
I leaned against the rickety balcony on my break,
smoking my last saved butt?
It was sheer bad luck when I picked up
the glass coffee pot and spun around
to pour another cup. All I could think
as it shattered was how it was the same shape
and size as the customer’s head. And this is why
I don’t believe in accidents, the grainy dregs
running like sludge down his thin tie
and pin-stripe shirt like they were channels
riven for just this purpose.
It wasn’t my fault. I know that. But what, really,
was the hurry? I dabbed at his belly with a napkin.
He didn’t have a cut on him (physics) and only
his earlobe was burned. But my last day there
was the first day I looked up as I walked, the trees
shimmering green lanterns under the Prussian blue
particulate sky, sun streaming between my fingers
as I waved at the bus, running, breathing hard, thinking:
This is the grand phenomenon of my body. This thirst
is mine. This is my one and only life.
Dorianne Laux’s most recent books of poems are The Book of Men (2011) and Facts about the Moon (2007), recipient of the Oregon Book Award and short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, and Smoke, as well as two fine small press editions, Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press. Co-author of The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry, she’s the recipient of two Best American Poetry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, two fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Widely anthologized, her work has appeared in the Best of APR, The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and The Best of the Net. She has been teaching poetry in private and public venues since 1990 and since 2004 at Pacific University’s Low-Residency MFA Program. In the summers she teaches at Tinhouse, the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill. Her poems have been widely translated. Recent poems appear in The American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Cerise Press, Margie, Orion, The Seattle Review, Tin House, The Valparaiso Review and Poetry Everywhere, highlights from The Dodge Poetry Festival. She and her husband, poet Joseph Millar, moved to Raleigh in 2008 where she teaches poetry in the MFA program at North Carolina State University.