Dorianne Laux







What We Carry

     for Donald



He tells me his mother carries his father’s ashes

on the front seat in a cardboard box, exactly

where she placed them after the funeral.

Her explanation: she hasn’t decided

where they should be scattered.

It’s been three years.

I imagine her driving home from the store,

a sack of groceries jostling next to the box–

smell of lemons, breakfast rolls,

the radio tuned to the news.

He says he never liked his father,

but made peace with him before he died.

That he carries what he can

and discards the rest.

We are sitting in a cafe.

Because I don’t love him, I love

to watch him watch the women walk by

in their sheer summer skirts.

From where I sit I can see them approach,

then study his face as he watches them go.

We are friends. We are both lonely.

I never tell him about my father

so he doesn’t know that when I think of his–

blue ashes in a cardboard box–I think

of my own, alive in a room

somewhere in Oregon, a woman

helping his worn body into bed, the same body

that crushed my sister’s childhood, mine.

Maybe this wife kisses him

goodnight, tells him she loves him,

actually means it. This close to the end,

if he asked forgiveness, what could I say?

If I were handed my father’s ashes,

what would I do with them?

What body of water would be fit

for his scattering? What ground?

It’s best when I think least. I listen

to my friend’s story without judgment

or surprise, take it in as he takes in

the women, without question, simply a given,

an unexceptional as conversation between friends,

the laughter and at each end

the relative comfort of silence.



Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry (BOA Editions, 1994)




Singing Back the World



I don’t remember how it began.

The singing. Judy at the wheel

in the middle of Sentimental Journey.

The side of her face glowing.

Her full lips moving. Beyond her shoulder

the little houses sliding by.

And Geri. Her frizzy hair tumbling

in the wind wing’s breeze, fumbling

with the words. All of us singing

as loud as we can. Off key.

Not even a semblance of harmony.

Driving home in a blue Comet singing

I’ll Be Seeing You and Love is a Rose.

The love songs of war. The war songs

of love. Mixing up verses, eras, words.

Songs from stupid musicals.

Coming in strong on the easy refrains.

Straining our middle aged voices

trying to reach impossible notes,

reconstruct forgotten phrases.

Cole porter’s Anything Goes.

Shamelessly la la la-ing

whole sections. Forgetting

the rent, the kids, the men,

the other woman. The sad goodbye.

The whole of childhood. Forgetting

the lost dog. Polio. The grey planes

pregnant with bombs. Fields

of white headstones. All of it gone

as we struggle to remember

the words. One of us picking up

where the others leave off. Intent

on the song. Forgetting our bodies,

their pitiful limbs, their heaviness.

Nothing but three throats

beating back the world – Laurie’s

radiation treatments. The scars

on Christina’s arms. Kim’s brother.

Molly’s grandfather. Jane’s sister.

Singing to the telephone poles

skimming by. Stoplights

blooming green. The road,

a glassy black river edged

with brilliant gilded weeds. The car

an immense boat cutting the air

into blue angelic plumes. Singing

Blue Moon and Paper Moon

and Mack the Knife, and Nobody Knows

the Trouble I’ve Seen.



Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry (BOA Editions, 1994)







Twelve years old, two silver quarters singing

in the crease of my palm, the marquee

three streets up, the blue neon letters

washed out to the same color as the sky.

What made me turn my head sideways, toward

the quiet house where he stood naked

between the trees, trembling in the shade

of a white-washed duplex, a stranger

looking back at me, holding onto himself

in the sparse light, his eyes opening

and closing, opening and closing.

Why didn’t I believe what I saw?

I had seen a man naked before.

I had seen my father undressed, his long white

thighs and the dark scratchy patch between them.

I had seen this, over and over, the pale worm

that grew and bruised up into the air, its

smelly milk, its tiring and slow failing.

I knew what was reel and what wasn’t.

I knew day from night. And I knew about men,

what they hid beneath their clothes,

so why was I crying? I was twelve. I knew

everything. And it was broad daylight,

wasn’t it? That was the sun, wasn’t it,

pinned to the sky? I had two quarters in my hand,

I could feel them, the ridges along each rim,

the raised faces pressed into my palm.

There were bright cars and sidewalks

and pale green lawns and the movie theater

a single block away, its glittering brick walls

and mirrored doors. I could see it.

I could be there in another minute

if I could only keep running. And I could see

the poster in its glassed case. I could read

the names of the actors and the looks

on their faces. One of them was holding

a handful of roses, I remember how they looked –

so red and so real and so close I thought

I could touch them, I was sure I could

just reach out and take them into my arms.



Dorianne Laux, from What We Carry (BOA Editions, 1994)











Dorianne Laux’s most recent books of poems are The Book of Men,winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize, and Facts about the Moon, 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. Her work has received three “Best American Poetry” Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, two fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2001, she was invited by late poet laureate Stanley Kunitz to read at the Library of Congress. In 2014 singer/songwriter Joan Osborne adapted her poem, “The Shipfitter’s Wife” and set it to music on her newest release, “Love and Hate”. She teaches poetry and directs the MFA program at North Carolina State University and she is founding faculty at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program.






Articles similaires