The Poetry of Dorianne Laux, Part 2
GIRL IN THE DOORWAYShe is twelve now, the door to her room
closed, telephone cord trailing the hallway
in tight curls. I stand at the dryer, listening
through the thin wall between us, her voice
rising and falling as she describes her new life.
Static flies in brief blue stars from her socks,
her hairbrush in the morning. Her silver braces
shine inside the velvet case of her mouth.
Her grades rise and fall, her friends call
or they don't, her dog chews her new shoes
to a canvas pulp. Some days she opens her door
and musk rises from the long crease in her bed,
fills the dim hall. She grabs a denim coat
and drags the floor. Dust swirls in gold eddies
behind her. She walks through the house, a goddess,
each window pulsing with summer. Outside,
the boys wait for her teeth to straighten.
They have a vibrant patience.
When she steps onto the front porch, sun shimmies
through the tips of her hair, the V of her legs,
fans out like wings under her arms
as she raises them and waves. Goodbye, Goodbye.
Then she turns to go, folds up
all that light in her arms like a blanket
and takes it with her.
CROSS COUNTRYWhen the train stops to fuel up,
they have to shut the power down.
You have to use the bathroom
in the dark, have to eye the hole
as the door slides closed, clicks
into the lock. if you're a woman,
you have to squat near where you think
the hole still is, not daring to touch
to make sure. You hover above a rising warmth
and force yourself to pee, not knowing, hoping
your aim is true. When you come out,
a row of kids, their filthy ears
pressed to the metal wall, have been listening,
are still giggling deep in their throats,
their mothers asleep in the hard yellow seats,
nothing left to see but backyards, stacked
car parts, miles of cramped city.
You don't want to look back
but you do, to where they crowd the open door,
the train windows' dirty light seeping in
around their skinny necks. They creep
to the spot you just left
to take in the wild scent: a raw mix
of sweat, excrement and disinfectant.
"Smell it," they whisper to each other,
bumping shoulders in the dark,
their stringy hair and heavy heads
hung forward, toward something they know
they should know, drooped with longing
toward what reminds them of a soft mound
of dirt, the earth, like those flowers
you saw growing too close
to the tracks, bent and trembling
on the outskirts of Detroit.
SUNDAYWe sit on the lawn, an igloo
cooler between us. So hot, the sky
is white. Above gravel rooftops
a spire, a shimmering cross.
You pick up the swollen hose, press
your thick thumb into the silver nozzle.
A fan of water sprays rainbows
over the dying lawn. Hummingbirds
sparkle green. Bellies powdered
with pollen from the bottle-brush tree.
The bells of twelve o'clock.
Our neighbors return from church.
I bow my head as they ease
clean cars into neat garages, file
through screen doors in lace gloves,
white hats, Bible-black suits.
The smell of barbeque rises, hellish
thick and sweet. I envy their weekly
peace of mind. They know
where they're going when they die.
Charcoal fluid cans contract in the sun.
I want to be Catholic. A Jew. Maybe
a Methodist. I want to kneel
for days on rough wood.
Their kids appear in bright shorts,
bathing suits, their rubber thongs
flapping down the hot cement.
They could be anyone's children;
they have God inside their tiny bodies.
My god, look how they float, like birds
through the scissor-scissor-scissor
of lawn sprinklers.
Down the street, a tinny radio bleats.
The sun bulges above our house
like an eye. I don't want to die.
I never want to leave this block.
I envy everything, all of it. I know
it's a sin. I love how you can shift
in your chair, take a deep drink
of gold beer, curl your toes under, and hum.
WHAT COULD HAPPENNoon. A stale Saturday. The hills
rise above the town, nudge houses and shops
toward the valley, kick the shallow river
into place. Here, a dog can bark for days
and no one will care enough
to toss an empty can or an unread newspaper
in his direction. No one complains.
The men stand in loose knots
outside Ace Hardware, talk a little, stare
at the blue tools. A few kids
sulk through the park, the sandbox full
of hardscrabble, the monkey bars
too hot to touch. In a town like this
a woman on the edge of forty
could drive around in her old car, the back end
all jingle and rivet, one headlight
taped in place, the hood held down with greasy rope,
and no one would notice.
She could drive up and down the same street
all day, eating persimmons,
stopping only for a moment to wonder
at the wooden Indian on the corner of 6th and B,
the shop window behind it
filled with beaten leather, bright woven goods
from Guatemala, postcards of this town
before it began to go under, began
to fade into a likeness of itself.
She could pull in at the corner store for a soda
and pause before uncapping it,
press the cold glass against her cheek,
roll it under her palm down the length of her neck
then slip it beneath the V of her blouse
and let it rest there, where she is hottest.
She could get back in her car
and turn the key, bring the engine up
like a swarm of bottle flies, feel it
shake like an empty caboose.
She could twist the radio too high
and drive like this for the rest of the day--
the same street, the same hairpin turn
that knocks the jack in the trunk from one wheel well
to the other--or she could pass the turn
and keep going, the cold soda
wedged between her legs, the bass notes
throbbing like a vein, out past the closed shops
and squat houses, the church
with its bland white arch, toward the hills,
beyond that shadowy nest of red madrones.