Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Please check out my half-day and Writing Together offerings – I’d love to see you in the Zoom room!

A few days ago I was on the phone with my sister, telling her a true-life tale from a few months ago. She started laughing so hard she had a coughing fit (always my goal). Then she turned quiet.

“I bet it wasn’t funny when it happened, was it, Allie?” Nope. But making unfunny things funny is a way to transcend what really happened. That child with a book in her treehouse, in her hay fort, in her room with a flashlight: she was me. She’s still me, making up people who take everything that’s too hard about being alive and somehow make it manageable. The older brother I always wanted, the high school boyfriend I never had, the woman who’s the me I want to be, they rise up from my keyboard every morning, saving my life like always.

Moon in the Window, by Dorianne Laux

I wish I could say I was the kind of child
who watched the moon from her window,
would turn toward it and wonder.
I never wondered. I read. Dark signs
that crawled toward the edge of the page.
It took me years to grow a heart
from paper and glue. All I had
was a flashlight, bright as the moon,
a white hole blazing beneath the sheets.

Click here for more information about wondrous poet Dorianne Laux.


Words by Winter: my podcast

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

IMG_2315The suicide of Alan Krueger last week, a man I didn’t know but whose work I admire, a man clearly beloved by so many, hit me hard. It brought me back to my early twenties, when the suicide of someone I loved both ended his life and permanently altered mine. Crying comes hard to me and does not bring relief, but it came anyway this week. At one point I found myself alone, apologizing out loud for things I wish I’d done differently.

I’m haunted by the sense that the cruelty and hatred so on display these days made things worse for Alan Krueger. It makes things worse for everyone. The only thing I can do, like the poet below, is try to subvert it with kindness.

For the Sake of Strangers, by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another – a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded* child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them –
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.   


*Note that this poem was published in 1994, when this word was in common usage.

For more information on Dorianne Laux, please check out her website




Facebook page




Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 8.44.54 AMA few days ago at the store I stood in line, my groceries on the conveyor belt: butter, greens, an avocado, carrots and peppers and potatoes. The person behind me placed their items on the belt: two packages of ice cream sandwiches. About once a year I get a craving for an ice cream sandwich, and looking at the picture on the boxes made me want one. I turned to see who was buying them. She was middle-aged, with faded hair and a worn, tired face, wearing a jacket with a broken zipper. Hunched over. She’s been through some things, was the thought in my mind, and I waited for her to look up so I could smile at her and chat a little while we waited for the cashier. But she never did look up. And I thought of this poem, by the wondrous Dorianne Laux. So many people out there, all of us maybe, who have been through some things. Oh, the water.


Oh, The Water, by Dorianne Laux

You are the hero of this poem,
the one who leans into the night
and shoulders the stars, smoking
a cigarette you’ve sworn is your last
before reeling the children into bed.

Or you’re the last worker on the line,
lifting labeled crates onto the dock,
brown arms bare to the elbow,
your shirt smelling of seaweed and soap.

You’re the oldest daughter
of an exhausted mother, an inconsolable
father, sister to the stones thrown down
on your path. You’re the brother
who warms his own brother’s bottle,
whose arm falls asleep along the rail of his crib.

We’ve stood next to you in the checkout line,
watched you flip through tabloids or stare
at the TV Guide as if it were the moon,
your cart full of cereal, toothpaste, shampoo,
day-old bread, bags of gassed fruit,
frozen pizzas on sale for 2.99.

In the car you might slide in a tape, listen
to Van Morrison sing Oh, the water.
You stop at the light and hum along, alone.

When you slam the trunk in the driveway,
spilling the groceries, dropping your keys,
you’re someone’s love, their one brave hope;
and if they don’t run to greet you or help
with the load, they can hear you,
they know you’ve come home.

​For more information on Dorianne Laux, please ​check out her website.

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Shack, view straight up from the hammockI was born too late to be a hippie and I grew up in the rural north, not exactly the site of mass protests and marches in the streets (we had hardly any streets). But I remember being a little girl and sitting in the high school cafeteria before elementary school started (my mother was a high school teacher and we sometimes rode to town with her to avoid the school bus horror show) observing the gigantic and intimidating high schoolers and wondering what the black armbands on some of their arms meant. It isn’t easy to give up hope, to escape a dream, says Dorianne Laux in this haunting poem. Nor should it be.


Listening to Paul Simon
     – Dorianne Laux

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can’t summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we would pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his cindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and blinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn’t easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us
in the dark, so that sleeping and waking
we heard the train’s distant whistle,
steel trestles shivering
across the land that was still ours
in our bones and hearts, its lone headlamp
searching the weedy stockyards,
the damp, gray rags of fog.


For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux


Panhandle 2013, Howard Creek yellow water flower

That little phrase above there, “changjiang shangyou hen feiwo,” is one of my favorite sentences in the world. It translates as “the upper reaches of the Yangtze River valley are very rich and fertile” which is all well and good, but what I love about it is the way it sounds when you say it. The upward swoop of the chang, the sustained note of the jiang, the downward bark of the shang and the swing of the you, the deep growl of the you, and the swift up and down finish of the feiwo. Mandarin is a language I speak to myself inside my own head. It’s part of the language of words themselves, the sound and feel of them, phrases and fragments and little mantras that in my life others have used to soothe, like All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. All the good words that save us, that have saved us.

Tonight I Am in Love
     Dorianne Laux

Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
with the men and women who
uncapped their pens and laid the ink
on the blank canvas of the page.
I am shameless in my love; their faces
rising on the smoke and dust at the end
of day, their sullen eyes and crusty hearts,
the murky serum now turned to chalk
along the gone cords of their spines.
I’m reciting the first anonymous lines
that broke night’s thin shell: sonne under wode.
A baby is born us bliss to bring. I have labored
sore and suffered death. Jesus’ wounds so wide.
I am wounded with tenderness for all who labored
in dim rooms with their handful of words,
battering their full hearts against the moon.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek.
Wake, now my love, awake: for it is time.
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love!
What can I do but love them? Sore throated
they call from beneath blankets of grass,
through the wind­torn elms, near the river’s
edge, voices shorn of everything but the one
hope, the last question, the first loss, calling
Slow, slow, fresh fount, keep time with my salt tears.
When as in silks my Julia goes, calling Why do I
languish thus, drooping and dull as if I were all earth?
Now they are bones, the sweet ones who once
considered a cat, a nightingale, a hare, a lamb,
a fly, who saw a Tyger burning, who passed
five summers and five long winters, passed them
and saved them and gave them away in poems.
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Needle and Thread
– Dorianne Laux

It was the sixties, and embroidery was back in,
and if you had jeans torn at the knee, an old
denim jacket, a plain white shirt or a cloth
handbag, I might ask you what you liked
then spend hours alone in my room
with your favorite colors, woven threads
luxurious as a young girl’s hair, practicing
the chain stitch, cross stitch, running stitch,
satin stitch across your ripped skirt until
flowers and suns unfurled, a blustery field
of violet iris, a blind yellow meadow or a deep ravine
that scrolled down your back or pants seam,
red ferns blushing your blouse above
a clavicle, daisy chains circling your cuffs.
I’d return your garment on a day you had almost
forgotten about it, baggy T-shirt, ragged shorts,
laid across my arms so the crewel work
shimmered, patchwork of hearts, patina
of wings, like the riven marble draped
beneath Christ’s Pieta, folds catching the light,
offering it up as a sacrifice, asking nothing in return,
though you bowed your head over it and touched it
with your whorled fingertips, the veined leaf
or cresting wave, frothed, feathered, spiders’ webs
and fleur-de-lis, peace signs and scepters and stars,
then looked up into my face like an alien being, you
who I hardly knew.

​For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here: http://doriannelaux.com/​

My blog: alisonmcghee.com/blog

My Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts

Poem of the Week, by Dorianne Laux

Dark Charms
– Dorianne Laux

Eventually the future shows up everywhere:
those burly summers and unslept nights in deep
lines and dark splotches, thinning skin.
Here’s the corner store grown to a condo,
the bike reduced to one spinning wheel,
the ghost of a dog that used to be, her trail
no longer trodden, just a dip in the weeds.
The clear water we drank as thirsty children
still runs through our veins. Stars we saw then
we still see now, only fewer, dimmer, less often.
The old tunes play and continue to move us
in spite of our learning, the wraith of romance,
lost innocence, literature, the death of the poets.
We continue to speak, if only in whispers,
to something inside us that longs to be named.
We name it the past and drag it behind us,
bag like a lung filled with shadow and song,
dreams of running, the keys to lost names.


For more information on Dorianne Laux, please click here: http://doriannelaux.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Alison-McGhee/119862491361265?ref=ts