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Featured Poet





Dorianne Laux

( Eugene, Oregon )



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Birthroom

I was young, strong, I’d prepared for nine months,
walking five miles a day, swimming in the Pacific,
floor exercises to strengthen my stomach muscles,
my thighs.  I ate liver and onions once a week, thick
protein shakes and raw vegetables, swallowed vitamins
dutifully, daily, with a glass of fresh juice — two slices
of unbuttered toast.  I’ve never been so disciplined since,
so in love with my body, so trusting.  I had a deep faith.
I’d believed what I’d heard: the body was a temple —
no metaphor — an actual temple, like the glittering
Mormon Temple born in the brushfire gold
of the San Diego hills.  My eyes were clear tide pools.
My hair a sleek eel in its coiled ponytail.  I had the legs
of a pink-toed, melon-calved lifeguard, my belly
an aquarium, taut and locked. So when the first pains came
I was elated, proud, as if I’d commanded them myself,
bore each one with a saint’s patience, lifting my head
like a prizefighter between bouts.  Then the real pain came —
sharp, unreasonably insistent, pressing  its glottal knuckles
into the small of my back.  Pain that wouldn’t stay
where I’d learned to contain it but raced along my ribs
and into my hips, digging its blue holes into the cartilage
between each wrenched apart joint, pistons firing
into the base of my brain.  I went crazy.  I couldn’t
concentrate on anything except the helplessness
spreading across my mother’s face, and when the pain
exploded and blew apart my spine I knew I was dying.
I pried my mouth open with my mind, begged for an answer:
Why had she lied? She’d said I’d be fine.  I’d believed her —
mother of seven — and now my beloved body breaking
open on the spoiled sheets. I thrashed and kicked my feet
like a demented child, wrested away from her grip
and threw up on her shoes. Then the cursing and spitting,
my hair seaweed, salty-slick, arms snapping open
like mandibles, all fingernails and teeth, heels
blunt axes bludgeoning the sheets.  It was wartime —
everyone scattered. Then a nurse came back
with a needle.  The others held me down.



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Laux’s Comments...

“Birthroom” was written at Squaw Valley Community of Writers where I taught one summer with Sharon Olds, Galway Kinnell, Lucille Clifton and Bob Hass. Each of us gave our students daily exercises and we wrote right along with them. A poem a day. “Birthroom” was one of the results. This was probably about five years ago now so I don't remember much about how the poem came into being though I do remember the quality of light on the mountain and the way the air smelled in that place: sweet, delicate on the skin, thin. I also remember the sound of a child laughing and calling out to her mother coming from somewhere outside my hotel room. I couldn't see the child and never did see her the whole time I was there, but I would sit at my window each morning and wait for her voice. It was so clear, and yet seemed so far away. It's odd that I don't remember writing the poem but have such crystalline memories of that place, how everything seemed made of tissue or frayed lace, and that disembodied voice, clouds hanging like rags around the snow dusted mountain top. The poem remembers a great violence that happened to my body. I am glad for the child that came of it but I had no idea that the pain would be so great or that one could live through such pain. Monumental. They say women forget. They say they forget so that they can have another child, and another. I will never forget that rending. Maybe forget is the wrong word, the wrong idea. Maybe it has more to do with the cessation of pain, the sudden absence of pain. We remember that instead. I always felt ashamed that I wasn't braver, stronger, stoic. We like to think of ourselves as coming up to the mark. The silence of that place shattered me.



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