A little over a week ago here in the Scriblets pages was a sort of mini-spotlight on poet Dorianne Laux and her marvelous poem, “Homicide Detective: A Film Noir.” The poem is one of thirty-six in Laux’s most recent collection, The Book of Men, published last February. I first read the poem in The Writer’s Almanac and hugely impressed, ordered a copy of the new collection without delay. I got the book two or three days later and have since then read and reread the poems again and again, probably boring friends by even reading one or two poems out loud. But isn’t most poetry meant to be read aloud anyway, even to ourselves?
The poetry of Dorianne Laux has affected me more strongly than any I’ve read in some time. In words better than my own poet B.H. Fairchild said, ‘In The Book of Men our recognition of a drifting world brought to the hard edge of meaning is immediate and enduring and makes us grateful once again for poetry’s capacity for rescue.’ From the book’s front flap, these words go directly to the heart and kernel of Laux’s writing.
The poem below is another from The Book of Men, one called “The Mysterious Human Heart in New York.” The poem originally appeared in Dark Charms, a 2009 chapbook of Ms Laux’s poems from Red Dragonfly Press.
THE MYSTERIOUS HUMAN HEART IN NEW YORK
Streetwise but foolish, the heart
knows what’s good for it but goes
for the dark bar, the beer before noon,
the doughy pretzel hot and salty, tied up
in a Gordian knot. It takes a walk
through Tompkins Square where
the homeless sleep it off on stone benches,
one shrouded body to each gritty sarcophagus.
The streets fill with taxis and trucks,
pinstripes and briefcases, and the subways
spark and sway underground. The sun
is snagged on the Empire State, performing
its one-note song, the citizens below
dragging their shadows down the sidewalk
like sidekicks, spitting into the gutter
as if on cue, as if in a musical,
as if there’s no association between the trash
flapping against the chain link and the girl
with her skirt up in the alley. When the traffic
jams on 110th—a local pain, a family affair—
the Starbucks junkie leans against the glass
and laughs into his hand, a cabbie
sits on his hood and smokes, cops
on skates weave through the exhaust,
billy club blunts bumping against their
dark blue thighs. Everyone’s on a cell phone,
the air a-buzz with yammer and electricity
as the heart of the city pounds like a man
caught in the crosswalk holding his shoulder,
going down on one knee, then blundering
into Central Park to lean over the addled bridge,
the sooty swans floating under him, grown fat
on cheap white bread. Oh heart, with your
empty pockets and your hat on backwards,
stop looking at yourself in the placid waters.
Someone is sneaking up behind you
in an overcoat lined with watches,
and someone else is holding a cardboard sign
that says: The End Is Here.