Two Poems

Dorianne Laux

When I Can’t Sleep

I listen to the boxcars coupling, the exhaled crush like air
squeezed through a ragged metal hole or wind unwinding

in an abandoned drainage pipe, like the one we used to hide in
when we were kids, drawing cocks dripping tears with a stolen

lipstick, rippling vaginas with a black magic marker, scrubbing
our names onto the pocked cement with broken coal, dusk making

a cameo at one end of the tunnel. A rough thunder. A sluggish
crash. The undercarriage screech. If I close my eyes I can see

blue sparks the steel wheels make as they grind the rails. The smell
of oil mixed with dust. Weeds between the ties bend low, blown

sideways in the gust, then pop back up and stand there like nothing
happened. Saddest sound in the universe: coupling. Like loneliness

itself. Something about the yielding machinery and the stuff of bodies
hurtling through space. Nothing emptier than an empty boxcar, doors

cranked open on both sides, the blurred landscape rushing through,
warehouses, backyards, slipping by.


Keats in the Rain

Uncertainty. Doubt. Mystery.
Suspended there not needing
to know. Not scumbling after.

Undefined, unsheltered.
The rain splashing down,
not calling it anything.

Not asking why now
and not yesterday.
Tomorrow ‘s a bird

hidden in its nest.
Buried there. Not here
where you’re standing,

face lifted to the rain.
Whatever silver it is.
Whatever life it gives

or takes. In the boots
it ruins. Its needles
on your shoulders.

Watching it slide
down the gutters, sloop
through the grate,

beyond how it started
or when it will stop,
if it’s good or not.

Standing in your spot
on the sidewalk. Hands
held, palms up. Your body

a windy road.


Art by Daniel Toby Gonzalez

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Dorianne Laux’s fifth collection, THE BOOK OF MEN (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011) was awarded The Paterson Prize. She is a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets.

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