Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Sometimes how you've come to be reading a poem is part of the pleasure.  Last week I was carrying around a volume of poetry while I ushered some very important guests around campus, and when I had a few minutes, I would perch somewhere and read one or two of the poems.  On the second day of this, I perched on the side of some cold, concrete steps in front of the Admissions building, where people come and go so quickly, and read this poem by Dorianne Laux, out of her volume entitled The Book of Men:


Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not
the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not
the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punch line, the door or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the window.
Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.
Relax. Don't bother remembering any of it. Let's stop here,
under the lit signs on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

And there I was, twenty years later, sitting in a highly visible spot on a campus where I have not achieved fame and fortune, reading this poem and laughing because I'd picked up an onion ring someone dropped on the floor of the dining hall the night before and crying because it was a bright, sunny morning and the rest of my life was all spread before me as soon as my campus visitors opened the door onto those concrete steps.

Every poem in the volume is just about as glorious as that one, and it's one of my recommendations for this year's poetry award over at the Indie Lit Awards, where you should go and nominate it if it made you laugh and cry, too.


Harriet M. Welsch said...

Wow. Fabulous. And also about as far from the poem stuck in my head (the annual reading of Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride) as humanly possible.

FreshHell said...

I love it. Love it.

Serena said...

What a great poem. What volume is this? Have you added it to my suggestion list?


Trapunto said...

I am reading Franny Billingsley's Chime, which refers in one place to the Picnic Principle: things taste better when eaten outdoors. I think theres is something similar for reading.

Books opened on cold concrete steps. So evocative.

Harriet said...

Hey, I used to date Franny Billingsley's brother.

Lass said...

Wow, indeed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, wow -- but what happened?

Jeanne said...

I'm glad the poem made all of you say "wow" too.

ReadersGuide, my campus visitors are writing a report and things look good. It'll take another few months to even begin sorting itself out.

Trapunto,I think you're right--in fact, I should make a resolution to read outside more and test this theory!

Serena, I mention the name of the volume, and added it to your list. Thanks!