In April of last year I remarked in these pages that poet Dorianne Laux has affected me more strongly than any poet I have read in some time. Nine months later that feeling is much the same. Dorianne Laux is a magical poet and continues to be under-appreciated and under-read; she deserves a wider audience. Sunday was a day I decided to reread her latest book of poems published last year, The Book of Men.
As well as this most recent, her work includes Facts About the Moon (2005), Smoke (2000), What We Carry (1994) and Awake (1990). Facts About the Moon was a recipient of the Oregon Book Award and also chosen as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the collection Awake was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry. One of Ms Laux’s peers, the poet Tony Hoagland said about her work, “Her poems are those of a grown American woman, one who looks clearly, passionately, and affectionately at rites of passage, motherhood, the life of work, sisterhood, and especially sexual love, in a celebratory fashion.” Laux lives with her husband, poet Joseph Millar in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she teaches in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University. The poem below is from her latest collection, The Book of Men.
Though it does not speak of rites of passage, motherhood, the life of work, sisterhood or sexual love, “A Short History of the Apple” is evidence of the poet’s range.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE APPLE
The crunch is the thing, a certain joy in crashing through
living tissue, a memory of Neanderthal days. — Edward Bunyard, The Anatomy of Dessert, 1929
Teeth at the skin. Anticipation.
Then flesh. Grain on the tongue.
Eve’s knees ground in the dirt
of paradise. Newton watching
gravity happen. The history
of apples in each starry core,
every papery chamber’s bright
bitter seed. Woody stem
an infant tree. William Tell
and his lucky arrow. Orchards
of the Fertile Crescent. Bushels.
Fire blight. Scab and powdery mildew.
Cedar apple rust. The apple endures.
Born of the wild rose, of crab ancestors.
The first pip raised in Kazakhstan.
Snow White with poison on her lips.
The buried blades of Halloween.
Budding and grafting. John Chapman
in his tin pot hat. Oh Westward
Expansion. Apple pie. American
as. Hard cider. Winter banana.
Melt-in-the-mouth made sweet
by hives of Britain’s honeybees:
white man’s flies. O eat. O eat.