Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Facts About the Moon: Poems by Dorianne Laux

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 104 pages
• Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007
• Price: $14.95
• ISBN-10: 0393329623
• ISBN-13: 978-0393329629

No time lost, the opening poem immediately, stunningly, reminds me why Dorianne Laux still ranks among my top three favorite poets and keeps giving the other two a really hard time. “The Life of Trees” swirls me back into memory, all senses remembering. Once again, I am lying in my bed in the dark of a backcountry night, shack on a dirt road, tree branch scratching along the glass pane of my window.

… I want to sleep
and dream the life of trees, beings
from the muted world who care
nothing for Money, Politics, Power,
Will or Right, who want little from the night
but a few stars going dim, a white owl
lifting from their limbs, who want only
to sink their roots into the wet ground …

Because Laux understands and masters simplicity, and remaining simple in a complex world is one of the greatest arts of all. She speaks proletarian with the finesse of an intellectual, everything about these poems tapped into the blood of a common people in an uncommon world. She writes of the poor and homeless in “Democracy,” she makes us feel the highs and lows of everyday life, of angst, of growing pains, of loneliness and new connection.

“Vacation Sex” is a poem that is good and earthy and real, by God, real, not that drivel written in bad romances, posed for fantasy and never in reality, and never meant to be. Laux captures the couple that we are, our neighbors, our friends, dumping luggage at the door on the return home from vacation, and leaping back into the comfort of known bed, known body, known joy.

Nature, animals, earth, moon, connection with and between humans, these are the favorite things of Laux poetry. One of my favorites is “The Crossing,” in which the poet bride assesses the long-term value of a new husband by the way he treats an elk standing unmovable in the road. In the details, we are known.

Title poem, and moonlit we come to understand the light and shadow side of love, none purer than a mother’s, none more anguished and tested than the mother’s of a bad-boy son.

We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done …

… you want to slap her back to sanity, remind her
of the truth: he was a leech, a fuckup,
a little shit, and you almost do
until …

I won’t finish that. Endings of poems, especially Laux’s, are such dynamite. They either blow up all in your face, a ruin, or, as Laux’s do, they blow up your heart, shatter it with rediscovered feeling, remembering, suddenly, what it feels like to be sensitive and raw and open and vulnerable to life: vacation sex, flashlights under sheets as a child reading at night, elk caught in headlights on the road, your heart “a blue cup fallen from someone’s hand.”

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet, Spring 2010