Friday, November 9, 2012

Dorianne Laux: Mining the Lyrical from the Status Quotidian

I believe in love at first read. One poem, even one line, is sometimes all that it takes to forge a bond between reader and poet that will last a lifetime. We've all have our experiences of falling for certain poetry gods or goddesses. Collectively they become our personal canon. We turn to them when we are in distress, can barely take one more breath or get out of bed to recite one more line of our lives. We carry their pocket books of prayers in our purses, our backpacks, read them during our thirty-minute lunch hours, our mandated labor law breaks from waiting tables, from ringing up sales in department stores and retail shops for gifts that no one wants, as we worship at the altar of doing exactly what we want to do for one more minute.

Dorianne Laux is a member of the ranks of my personal, poetic hosts of heaven. How can one not be saved by poetry upon reading her following poem?


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 tie, 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
and 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.

Auden not withstanding ("For poetry makes nothing happen"), this poem, along with comments from another one of my poetry mentors, changed my life. Upon hearing Dorianne read it and Michael Waters say that if you're going to be a writer, be a writer full-time, I returned from the 2012 AWP conference and stepped down from a full-time management position to part-time sales in order to devote more time to writing.

Who are your poets? What are they saying to you? What are you doing about it?

Where is the lyrical in your quotidian? How will you mine it? When?


Anonymous said...

Jane Kenyon, who wrote poems I wish I had written. The every day, the melancholy, the lift of joy. The clear undespairing eye.

W.S.Merwin, for whom language rises up and cheers; for the wisdom and perception. And the kindness.

Thank you for your blog, which I just discovered today, a link from a friend.

Terry Lucas said...

Excellent choices and spot-on descriptions! Thank you for reading AND commenting. I checked out your blog, as well--looks like some terrific work. I can't wait to explore it more. TL