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Dorianne Laux’s The Book of Men

How can I possibly write about Dorianne Laux without gushing?

This book qualifies for my series this month (poetry books I’ve been meaning to read cover-to-cover) because, in 2013, when she was the keynote speaker at Litfuse in Tieton, I came home with a whole stack of books, and I suspect this one got lost in the shuffle. I would like to swear that I did read The Book of Men (Norton, 2011) immediately and all the way through. But sitting here this evening, the poems seem awfully new to me. Whichever way it goes, I’m so glad I got to read them today, all in “one fell swoop,” as they say. I will be reading them again.

I love this poem — which appeared in the anthology A Cadence of Hooves (as did two of my poems) — a long time ago. And, yes, it, too, feels brand new, even though I know I’ve read it many times. I think what I’m confronting here is the freshness and vivacity of the images and words. As Ezra Pound famously said, “Poetry is news that stays news.”

The Rising

The pregnant mare at rest in the field
the moment we drove by decided
to stand up, rolled her massive body
sideways over the pasture grass,
gathered her latticed spine, curved ribs
between the hanging pots of flesh,
haunches straining, kneebones bent
on the bent grass cleaved
astride the earth she pushed against
to lift the brindled breast, the architecture
of the neck, the anvil head, her burred mane
tossing flames as her forelegs unlatched in air
while her back legs, buried beneath her belly,
set each horny hoof in opposition
to the earth, a counterweight concentrated there,
and by a willful rump and switch of tail hauled up,
flank and fetlock, her beastly burden, seized
and rolled and wrenched and winched the wave
of her body, the grand totality of herself,
to stand upright in the depth of that field.
The heaviness of gravity upon her.
The strength of the mother.

In addition to the rough music of this poem, I hope you will notice that it is all one sentence until we reach the third to last line. Then the heaviness, gravity, and strength come under the poem in two short sentences that hold the weight of all of it together. A beautiful poem. An amazing poet.

 

Dorianne Laux, “On the Back Porch”

Dorianne Laux was a great favorite of mine before she chose Sparrow for the Gell Poetry Prize, before she wrote the forward for Sparrow, before I met her at LitFuse in 2013. I’ve included her poetry on the blog before, but in doing a little research today, I found an interview at a fascinating poetry site called Dive Dapper; divedapper? Anyway, click on the link to find out more. I am all the more determined to see that our paths cross again. And again.

In the meantime, here is a poem from her early collection, Awake. 

ON THE BACK PORCH

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It’s not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor’s roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there’s a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I’ve left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.