Friday, December 30, 2005

Dorianne Laux's breasts

As I read poetry I keep a stack of placemarks handy. If I read a poem I'd like to return to I pop in a placemark. If after repeated reading the poem remains one I don't wish to leave behind I hand copy it into a notebook.

I copied out three poems from Dorianne Laux's What We Carry, a book I bought when it was first out. I think part of the reason it took so long for me to get around to reading it was that I liked Dorianne's first book so much. I guess I was saving What We Carry for a special occasion. This fall I booked a few days in Calistoga, wanting to try a mud bath and get away from Berkeley. Kent often pines for a massage so I booked us two massages in three days.

Anyway, I brought along What We Carry and read it on a lounge chair on our room's private patio. We had a tiny triangular pond brimming with reeds and roses and blackberries and fresh tendrils of wisteria swooped down from the roof. I would read a few pages, then close my eyes.

And I liked What We Carry so much I decided, rather than mark particular poems for rereading, I would go back through the whole book.

When, about a month later, I picked it up again the poems had settled more and I started noticing where Laux would repeat herself, poem to poem, where she would soak in a warm theme, what she liked to talk about.

I note that all three of the poems I've copied into my notebook (& even a third I read several times before choosing not to copy) contain the word "breast". In the poem, "Aphasia", the woman who has lost the power of speech (but for one word) opens her blouse for her husband, "fumbling / at her buttons, her breasts, / holding them up to the light / like a gift."

In "Twelve" Laux describes herself (one presumes) and her friends secretly reviewing girlie magazines in the woods. I like the poem particularly for the motherly way one of the boys attends to his baby brother, retrieving the child's pacifier and cleaning it when it falls from his mouth. That alludes to breast anyway, but of course "the turning / of the pages began, ceremoniously exposing / thigh after thigh, breast after beautiful, / terrible breast ..."

And in "Late October" Laux late at night drives scrabbling, yowling cats from her driveway, "a broom handle slipping // from my hands, my breasts bare ..."

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