By Dorianne Laux
You called it screwing, what we did nights
on the rug in front of the mirror, draped
over the edge of a hotel bed, on balconies
overlooking the dark hearts of fir trees
or a city of flickering lights. You'd
whisper that word into my ear
as if it were a thing you could taste --
a sliver of fish, a swirl of chocolate
on the tongue. I knew only
the rough exuberant consonant
of fucking, and this soft s and hard c
was a new sound -- querulous, slow,
like the long moments of leaving
between thrusts. I don't know what
to make of it, now that you're gone. I think
of metal eating wood. Delicate filaments
quivering inside a bulb of thin glass.
Harsh light. Corks easing up through
the wet necks of wine bottles. A silver lid
sealed tight on a jar of skinned plums.
I see two blue dragonflies hovering, end
to end, above a pond, as if twisting
the iridescence deep into each other's
body, abdomens writing, spiraling
into the wing-beaten air. And your voice
comes back to me through the trees, this word
for what we couldn't help but do
to each other -- a thin cry, unwinding.
I discovered Dorianne Laux some years back, finding -- and finding breathtaking – her poems in small-press anthologies, yet never seeing any of her collections in bookshops (Borders now stocks her books). One day early last year I was at somebody’s house, looking through a bookshelf, and was delighted to find not one but two of her collections. I took the books with me to the kitchen. “I love this poet’s work,” I told him. He glanced up at the books: “Dorianne Laux? She was one of my teachers at uni – remember, I told you about that poetry workshop I attended?”
When I read “Dragonflies” by Frances Leviston here on Puisi-Poesy a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded immediately of this poem of Laux’s, and decided that it would be the poem I would love to share next.
"The Word" opens with an invoking of the senses – the sights that surround the lovers during each of their encounters, the sound of the word and the whispering of it, the obvious palpable sensations of lovemaking, the word itself like a taste. Thus the reader is offered two things – physical setting, and more importantly, memory.
Addressing a lover who has left, the poet recalls the lust of their relationship, the way in which he used the word “screwing” – the way how, from his mouth, the word turned seductive, indelible. Her days have taken on the tinge of obsession – she begins to see everywhere visual metaphors for sex, not just sex, but screwing. This screwing unlike that experienced with anyone else. This screwing that means him.
“I don’t know/what to make of it, now that you’re gone”, she says at one point. This, then, is a poem about loss, about the demise of a relationship – and this is how she experiences her grief. She mourns her lover with her body memory. It startles her in ordinary tasks, shows her the symbolic and the erotic in the most mundane of places.
The eroticism of the poem, however, is more than just in its imagery, or in its almost brazen admission that it is the sex that she remembers and misses most. Its carnality is deeper, and darker – her desperate longing and sadness over the end of that relationship comes across like something so entrenched and internalized that it seems a part of her body, something she carries with her every moment.
Near the end of the poem, the poet speaks of “what we couldn’t help but do/ to each other”, and thus incites the question: What else could you not help but do to each other? How did the intimacy she describes, that all-consuming passion that continues to bleed into her life long after that affair has died, terminate?
Like all of Laux’s work that I have read, the bittersweetness of this poem, its cruel and secret underside, is what makes it so powerful. Its lyricism and sensuality is made all the more meaningful when we understand that she isn’t really talking about fucking – she’s talking about a deep and lonely grief.