The Monday Poem: ‘Under the Stars’ by Dorianne Laux

The Monday Poem is brought to you by Professor Jim Gormley of the English Department. Enjoy!

Under the Stars

Dorianne Laux

When my mother died
I was as far away
as I could be, on an arm of land
floating in the Atlantic
where boys walk shirtless
down the avenue
holding hands, and gulls sleep
on the battered pilings,
their bright beaks hidden
beneath one white wing.

Maricopa, Arizona. Mea Culpa.
I did not fly to see your body
and instead stepped out
on a balcony in my slip
to watch the stars turn
on their grinding wheel.
Early August, the ocean,
a salt-tinged breeze.

Botanists use the word
serotinous to describe
late-blossoming, serotinal
for the season of late-summer.
I did not write your obituary
as my sister requested, could
not compose such final lines:
I closed the piano
to keep the music in.
Instead

I stood with you
on what now seems
like the ancient deck
of a great ship, our nightgowns
flaring, the smell of dying lilacs
drifting up from someone’s
untended yard, and we
listened to the stars hiss
into the bent horizon, blossoms
the sea gathered tenderly, each
shattered and singular one
long dead, but even so, incandescent,
making a singed sound, singing
as they went.

About This Poem

“I was teaching a class in Provincetown when I got a phone call at 4 am. If we’re old enough, we know the news is never good at that time in the morning. After I hung up there was nothing but the thick quiet of the trees. What’s not in the poem is that I stepped out in my slip and picked up an old, three-legged chair that had been abandoned on the porch and threw it over the balcony where it shattered. That chair became the stars in the poem that I did look up to. It was the only thing I could do.”
—Dorianne Laux