Wise Poets – Dorianne Laux – Juneau

Dorianne Laux (January 10, 1952 -)

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,
hiked toward 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 AM:
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
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 and 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,
a sound like an iron door opening on a bent hinge.
Those undefined days I stared into the blue scar
where the ice face 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 and falling and changing shape.
And I woke to it and looked at it and didn’t speak.