Dorianne Laux


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 APRThe 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 ReviewCimarron ReviewCerise PressMargieOrionThe Seattle ReviewTin HouseThe 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.