DORIANNE LAUX

Photograph of Dorianne Laux by Ron Salisbury, from the back cover of her first book “Awakepublished by BOA Editions, Ltd, 1990.

QUARTER TO SIX

and the house swept with the colors of dusk,
I set the table with plates and lace. In these minutes
left to myself, before the man and child scuff at the doorstep
and come in, I think of you and wonder what I would say
if I could write. Would I tell you how I avoid his eyes,
this man I’ve learned to live with, afraid
of what he doesn’t know about me. That I’ve finished
a pack of cigarettes in one sitting, to ready myself
for dinner, when my hands will waver over a plate of fish
as my daughter grows up normal in the chair beside me. Missy,

this is what’s become of the wedding you swore you’d come to
wearing black. That was back in 1970 as we sat on the bleached
floor of the sanitarium sharing a cigarette you’d won
in a game of pool. You said even school was better
than this ward, where they placed the old men
in their draped pants, the housewives screaming in loud
flowered shifts as they clung to the doors that lined the halls.
When we ate our dinner of fish and boiled potatoes,
it was you who nudged me under the table
as the thin man in striped pajamas climbed
the chair beside me in his bare feet, his pink-tinged urine
making soup of my leftovers. With my eyes locked on yours,
I watched you keep eating. So I lifted my fork
to my open mouth, jello quivering green
against the tines, and while I trusted you and chewed
on nothing, he leapt into the arms of the night nurse
and bit open the side of her face. You had been there

longer, knew the ropes, how to take the sugar-coated pill
and slip it into the side pocket in your mouth, pretend
to swallow it down in drowsy gulps while
the white-frocked nurse eyed the clockface above our heads.
You tapped messages into the wall while I wept, struggling
to remember the code, snuck in after bedcount,
with cigarettes, blew the blue smoke through the barred windows.
We traded stories, our military fathers:
yours locking you in a closet for the days it took
to chew ribbons of flesh from your fingers, a coat
pulled over your head; mine, who worked
his ringed fingers inside me while the house
slept, my face pressed into the pillow, my fists
knotted into the sheets. Some nights

I can’t eat. The dining room fills
with their chatter, my hand stuffed with the glint
of a fork and the safety of butter knives
quiet at the sides of our plates. If I could write you now,
I’d tell you I wonder how long I can go on with this careful
pouring of the wine from the bottle, straining to catch it
in the fragile glass. Tearing open my bread, I see

the scar, stitches laced up to the root of your arm, the flesh messy
where you grabbed at it with the broken glass of an ashtray.
That was the third time. And later you laughed
when they twisted you into the white strapped jacket
demanding you vomit the pills. I imagined you
in the harsh light of a bare bulb where you took
the needle without flinching, retched
when the ipecac hit you, your body shelved over
the toilet and no one to hold your hair
from your face. I don’t know

where your hands are now, the fingers that filled my mouth
those nights you tongued me open in the broken light
that fell through chicken-wired windows. The intern
found us and wretched us apart, the half-moon of your breast
exposed as you spit on him. “Now you’re going to get it,”
he hissed through his teeth and you screamed “Get what?”
As if there was anything anyone could give you.
If I could write you now, I’d tell you

I still see your face, bone-white as my china
above the black velvet cape you wore to my wedding
twelve years ago, the hem of your black crepe skirt
brushing up the dirty rice swirls
as you swept down the reception line to kiss me.
“Now you’re going to get it,” you whispered,
cupping my cheek in your hand.

—Dorianne Laux

Dorianne Laux was born in Augusta, Maine. She teaches at North Carolina State University. Her most recent books are Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005) and Superman: The Chapbook (Red Dragonfly Press, 2008). Visit her website at www.doriannelaux.com.

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One Response to DORIANNE LAUX

  1. thanks for sharing this one!

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