In Alaska I slept in a bed on stilts, one arm
pressed against the ice feathered window,
the heat on high, sweat darkening the collar
of my cotton thermals. I worked hard to buy that bed,
walked towards it when the men in the booths
were finished crushing hundred dollar bills
into my hand, pitchers of beer balanced on my shoulder
set down like pots of gold. My shift ended at 5 a.m.:
station tables wiped clean, salt and peppers
replenished, ketchups married. I walked the dirt road
in my stained apron and snow boots, wool scarf,
second-hand gloves, steam rising
off the backs of horses wading chest deep in fog.
I walked home slow under Orion, his starry belt
hung heavy beneath the cold carved moon.
My room was still, quiet, squares of starlight
set down like blank pages on the yellow quilt.
I left the heat on because I could afford it, the house
hot as a sauna, and shed my sweater, my skirt,
toed off my boots, slung my damp socks
over the oil heater’s coils. I don’t know now
why I ever left. I slept like the dead
while outside my window the sun rose
low over the glacier, and the glacier did its best
to hold on, though one morning I woke to hear it
giving up, sloughing off a chunk of antediluvian ice
that sounded like the door to heaven opening
on a badly hung hinge. Those undefined days
I stared into the blue scar where the ice
had been, so clear and crystalline it hurt. I slept
in my small room and all night — or what passed for night
that far north – the geography of the world
outside my window was breaking, changing shape.
And I woke to it and looked at it and didn’t speak.
Dorianne Laux: Concerning the book (The Book of Men) this poem appears in: It all seems of a piece to me. The first section is devoted primarily to the men alluded to in the title: men from my past, the man on the street, famous men, men of myth, men who have influenced me, the heroes and anti-heroes of my life and imagination. Vietnam and the Iraq war collide in one poem, locales shift between the west coast and the east, poems of youth and age. But mostly these are poems that spring, as usual, from my very ordinary days.