Four Poems

Dorianne Laux

Illustration by Will Dowd

Garage Band

for my brother, Jack

My brother had one, my boyfriend.
Every man I have loved loved music.
Each song a pearl threaded onto a necklace
I have worn all my life.  I see them,
sitting on crates, guitars strapped
over their chests, tools hung
from rusty nails behind their heads,
oil stains at their feet.  A drum beat
so loud every mirror in the house
shook, every window a glass prism
of fragile light.  Was I sixteen
when I first heard them? Saw them
trapped in the boxed garage surrounded
by oily engine parts, coiled hoses,
shovels leaning against battered trash bins,
the air smelling of gas and dust
and stale cigarettes? My brother’s fingers
shuttled across the organ keys,
all of them singing a cover of Jimi’s
“Are You Experienced?”, a guitar string
strangled toward heaven, a compass
crushed under the bass drum’s pedal,
a cousin refusing to go to war, a lapse
in the fabric of time.  My life
has been blessed by these visits
through the gauze of the past.
And weren’t they what we deserved?
Their music booming down
the suburban streets, reminding us
who we were and who we could be,
their beauty and truth, their youth
and exuberance, crashing into
the chronic silence of our lives.

Famous Housedress

My mother’s should be preserved
in a museum, though not pressed
and hung behind glass, a glossy
placard spelling out her name, place
of birth, the years she wore it,
a tiny hyphen floating between them,
but amid a crumpled pile on top
of the washing machine, crushed
flower, her scent rising from
the neckline when a patron lowers
her face to look more closely, to see
the smear of egg yolk along the bodice
like a gold badge pinned above her breast,
or the burn mark on the edge
of the cotton belt she tightened, grime
along the hem where she got down
on hands and knees to scrub between
the tiles with a toothbrush, the skirt a mottled
map of the bathtubs she scoured, the roses
she clipped, stretch marks from the pillows
of her pear-shaped hips, the mushroom-shaped
buttons she lassoed into their holes
encrusted with grease.  The patron
would have to imagine her standing
before a mirror, staring straight ahead
with the eyes of a sphinx, certain
of nothing, her boredom a desert
beyond her shoulders, her lion’s body
buried in eons of sand, her sigh
almost audible in the high-ceilinged room.
This image would haunt each one that saw her,
smelled her, finally understood her mystery
and power, and would henceforth be heard
in the bleachy, airy, musty or oniony
rooms of their days, the only thing
holding them to the earth. 


Under the blown out stars
sounds the lone horn
of the Cucaracha car

the slow rolling music box
of the ice cream truck
rising from the muck

Trumpet vine
ball of twine

Dig yourself out
from your house
in the ground

flick the dimes
off your eyes
and come dance with me

through the streets, your feet
between sidewalk cracks
twist my back low

twirl and dip and
flip them off
the ones who don’t know

how to bop with a ghost
my holy host
stop with me beneath

the stop sign
it’s red hexagon
a heart chopped down

like a stolen car
parked along the curb
loading and unloading

the gun in your pocket
Lets jump off the dock
unlock the flame inside us

float over to the waters
of Mexico, heave ho
heave into me, weave

me into the singing
of the ringing phone
alone on the pier

swim into the going-gone
sun, our bodies turning rose
as night comes on

smother my wet face
with underwater kisses
I miss you so much

I could drown

The Weight of Days 

Sometimes the months can be weighed
like pounds, twelve in a year.  What weighs
twelve pounds?  One chair. One dog.
Seven crates of tomatoes. One month old
baby.  A double neck guitar someone
shreds ruthlessly, the band behind
trying to keep up.  Sometimes the months
drag, drug like a chair across the dry dirt
of days.  Some years come at a price.
Some marked down, on sale, tagged
“as is”.  Some days line up like siblings
against a wall, each waiting their turn
to be smacked with a ruler.  Or time
can be a beam of light which travels
faster than sound, fastest through air,
slower through water or glass.  A dog
lies on the grass, wagging its tail
until someone comes along
and frees the chain, a key
pressed into the metallic dark.
A year can be a truck on the interstate
loaded with seven crates of tomatoes,
the driver’s wife at home
holding a month-old baby.  Some days
there’s no room for another minute. 
Some years there’s not enough room
for the days.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Dorianne Laux’s Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems is available from W.W. Norton as are her award winning books, Facts about the Moon and The Book of Men. A text book, Finger Exercises for Poets, is forthcoming from W.W. Norton as well as in January, a new book of poems, Life on Earth. She is founding faculty at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA and a chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

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