Serving House: A Journal of Literary Arts
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SHJ Issue 3
Spring 2011

[Five Poems]

Dorianne Laux

Coloring Book

“(the poet) judges not as a judge judges but as the sun
falling around a helpless thing.”
Blue-grey dangerous. Your house was a dangerous place. 
Especially at night when the streetlights clicked off. 
You didn’t think about it during the day. You 
don’t know if your sister thought about it. You 
never spoke of it. You thought you were protecting her 
by not speaking. You thought you were sacrificing 
yourself so she could have a childhood. So maybe 
you felt pious and good, one of god’s lambs,
staying inside the lines, working the sky in carefully
around the scalloped clouds, the field goldenrod, 
the rocks silver, stepping stones to the teal river,
the bittersweet shore. You can’t help seeing yourself, 
elbow cocked, a Crayola of some newly named color 
squeaking a wax corona around the face of a flower, 
mother next door, father at work, brothers and sisters 
outside terrorizing the white chickens, the house quiet 
as a boat on a pond. Aquamarine water. Umber boat.
You don’t know how you kept that door closed, how you 
could act like a child, sitting so still, biting your lip, a child 
who kept a kitchen knife under her pillow, useless thing, 
useless thing.

—Previously published in The American Poetry Review



The knock-out rose has forced 
one recidivist bloom, reverted 
to the striated pink and cream 
it was born to, retreated to the seed 
of its original making.
Into the vast library of possibility 
we feel the sudden urge to add 
one more poem, cramming 
the ruffled pages in among 
the 10,000 things. One more color, 
one more day of the week. 
Moby Dick isn’t enough for us. 
A million elegies is one too few. 
Not just bread and potatoes 
but potato bread. 
This bookcase was a tree. 
That hospital was once 
a one-room house, one sign 
hung above the door on one 
rusty nail, one black leather bag, 
one stethoscope, one bottle 
of coppery iodine, a rubber 
nipple, a glass wand. 
If one lilac branch in bloom is beautiful 
10 branches are more beautiful. 
Give us profusion. Infuse the petals 
with more cerulean blue. 
The hibiscus fan themselves 
in the heat, opening and opening. 
When they stick their tongues out 
I want to French kiss them.

—Previously published by Cerise Press


How to Sleep

Let your mountainous forehead 
with its veins of bright ore 
ease down, the deep line
between your brow flatten, 
unruffle the small muscles
below your temples, above 
your jaws, let the grimace 
muscles in your cheekbones 
go, the weeping muscles
sealing your eyes. Die into 
the pillow, calm in the knowledge 
that you will someday cease, soon 
or late, late or soon, the song 
you’re made of will stop, your body 
played out, the currents pulsing 
through your brain drained 
of their power, their purpose, 
will frizzle out through 
your fingertips, private sparks 
leaping weakly onto the sheets 
where you lay breathing 
and then not breathing. 
Lay your head down and relax 
into it: death. Accept it. 
Trick yourself like this. 
Hover in a veil of ethers.
Call it sleep.

—Previously published in River Styx



Ah, timing. Woody Allen says 
it’s everything. I say it’s nothing,
can’t touch it, wear it, hold it up between your fingers and shake it 
like a napkin. Timing is what you have 
when you don’t have anything else, 
a facility with the wine list, a joke that hits the bull’s eye in the spongy 
marrow of a funny bone. Or death, 
that takes timing too, to elude, 
you must bend to pick up the fork you nervously, clumsily dropped 
so the bullet that whizzed through the wall 
from the shop next door where a man 
of few words was holding up 
a terrified clerk lost his balance 
for a moment and the gun went off, 
the bullet marked to end the next thought 
in your roundly specific head sailing 
straight through the window, shattering 
the harmless glass, nicking the letter D 
on the marquee across the street, a movie 
you meant to see after dinner with a woman 
who could become your wife, but who now looks at you as if you are a wanted 
man, a man with a foreseeable future, though not in the way you had hoped.

—Previously published in The American Poetry Review (July/August 2010)


Pentagon Orders Dead Officers to Report for Duty

The U.S. army said Friday it would apologize to the families of about 75 officers killed in action who were mistakenly sent letters urging them to return to active duty.
—January 5, 2007, WASHINGTON (AP)
Will the dead please rise and raise 
your right hands. Will the dead please 
swear to uphold that hand for as long 
as it takes. Will the dead please 
reassemble your bones, replace 
your heads, return your hearts, recant 
your screams. Will the dead please 
salute the flag ripped from the body 
politic. Will the dead please step 
onto the helicopters and into the bodies 
of soldiers afraid to become you. Give
the living your history, your wisdom, 
your sleepless eternities, your missteps 
only they can make right, remind them 
nightly to go on living. Will the dead 
please buckle up and ferry them home.

—First published by November 3rd Club; reprinted in

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury