Three Poems by Dorianne Laux

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Fig

Now that I’m old I’m trying to stay
focused on my feet, trying not to
trip so I won’t break a hip, end up

in a hospital surrounded by a swarm
of nurses and germs, a plastic container
of apple sauce, a juice box of prunes,

bleachy blankets thin as a wish.
I don’t want to die like this, a kingdom
of white walls, machines beeping

beside me, saints appearing in my
peripheral vision offering to escort me
to the final door. I want to die bent

to the tide, lifting a shell to my ear
or listening to the duende of the blues
on an old record player, tapping the arm

to the next groove when it skips. 
I don’t mind becoming fertilizer, that
honorable substance. It’s not the darkness

I fear. It’s the bright lights, needles
and ether, the P.A. system and the air-
conditioned air. I want to die like

a criminal in my own provenance,
eating the last stolen fig. 

 

 

 

Bedtime Stories

I like falling asleep to Ancient Aliens, watching
those flickering X-file lights tessellating
through the forest, the glowing disks, triangles,
and long metal lozenges—the three basic shapes
of UFOs—caught on cameras and wobbly videos.

I love the secret of the pyramids, how the man
in a lab coat, scientist of renown, asks
How the heck did they do it? What kind of
celestial saw did they use? How did they transport
them from one island to another? What kind of alien
angels are carved into the chapels of massive stone? 

I like listening to the hum of space gears
and distant stars, like tinnitus in a tin cup,
the sand turned to glass where the ship
touched down on their rotating bands
of turquoise lights? I love the child-like
drawings of those who’ve been abducted,
the ovoid heads on spider-like bodies,
their eyes translucent capsules of vitamin B12,

mouthless, earless, sexless creatures
tasked with human examination, prodding
and pulsing above the darkly vaginal ones,
flowering penises that must confound them
as much as they confound us, bathed
in a shower of curiosity and confusion
beneath the incandescent dome. 

Episode after episode they arrive and depart,
each show more impossible and vaguely
probable than the last, until the night
finally takes me into the sweet release
of sleep and I doze off in the TV’s
cathode beam, its glimmer and glint,
its gleam and flare as I fall up into space
made of nothing but light and time, formless
and flailing, an alien to my waking life.

 

 

 

Moonflaw

The rivers of my brain
flow east and west,
or if I stand on my head
they pour into the floor.

Essex, England has a town
called Braintree, the River
Brain runs through it,
deep meander that joins

the Blackwater near Witham.
With whom? I asked, back
when I had a boyfriend
who used to say he just

“went out.” What he meant,
of course, was that his brain’s
convolutions, made up of sulci
(the creases) and gyri (the ridges)

told him he needed a beer.
The more we laugh, the more
we etch lines into our faces.
Charles Resnikoff says:

The fingers of your thoughts
are molding your face
ceaselessly. Dolphins
have more creases than

humans, which must mean
they laugh, even in their sleep.
The creases in the brain
are called “axions.” 

The crease in your butt
is called the intergluteal cleft.
Between your nose and lip:
the philtrum. The underside

of your knee cap is called
the patella. Deep knee bends
can lead to wear and tear
and cause arthritis.

The muscles that cause
crow’s feet are the
M Orbicularis Oculi.
Happiness flaws

our lives. Brain creases
increase the available
surface area, like the fins
of car radiators. Only

dogs, cats, monkeys
and the aforementioned
dolphins have brain folds.
Rats, for instance,

still possess a primitive,
flat, unfolded brain.
A highly evolved trait
which allows us to lie

and know we are being
lied to, and still be happy,
still laugh in our sleep,
a flaw that is not quite

a flaw. 

   

    

  

Dorianne LauxPulitzer Prize finalist Dorianne Laux’s most recent collection is Life on Earth, where the three poems above were first published (W.W. Norton, 2024).  She is also author of Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected; The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize; and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award.  A textbook is forthcoming in July 2024: Finger Exercises for Poets. Laux is founding faculty at Pacific University and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Read Dorianne Laux’s poem from Cascadia Field Guide, “Pygmy Short-Horned Lizard,” with artwork by Emily Pool, also appearing in Terrain.org.

Header photo by New Africa, courtesy Shutterstock.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.