Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Streetwise But Foolish

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.


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.


  1. I have been to NYC more than several times, but this poem seems to say it all about what I know of the city. There are those who tell me that they love the city, but for me a trip to the city to see the shows and visit some museums is all that it holds for me. Nice post today.

  2. Agree with you totally about this poet. Love the hard edge of her language: "...the heart
    knows what’s good for it but goes for the dark bar, the beer before noon..." Will be searching for some of her books.


About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America