Sunday, April 10, 2022

Dorienne Laux on Pumping Gas and Poetry Love—National Poetry Month 2022

Dorienne Laux.

I admit to kind of falling in love with the work of Dorienne Laux despite our differences in gender, and many life experiences.  But we share an experience, as we shall see, her in her youth and me at a much older age and also a heart-on-the-sleeve love of poetry itself.

Laux was born January 10, 1952 in Augusta, Maine in a family of French Canadian ancestry.  She worked as a sanatorium cook, a gas station manager, and a maid before receiving a B.A. in English from Mills College in Oakland, California in1988.  She taught at the University of Oregon and is now a professor at North Carolina State University’s creative writing program, and the MFA in Writing Program at Pacific University.  She is also a contributing editor at The Alaska Quarterly Review, one of the nation’s most influential literary journals.

Her work appeared in American Poetry Review, Five Points, Kenyon Review, Ms., Orion, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Zyzzyva. Her work has also appeared in online journals such as Web Del Sol.

Her books include What We Carry in 1994, Facts about the Moon in 2005, and The Book of Men in 2011.

Laux lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with her husband, poet Joseph Millar.  Together they have one daughter.

A female gas jockey in her overalls probably from the 1940s way before Laux's time at the pump.

As a young woman Laux was a female gas pump jockey in the days before pump-your-own.  Much later I spent almost 15 years as a gas station clerk on second and over-night shifts in Crystal Lake.  Although I usually just had to authorize pumps for self-service customers, I did have to go out to lend assistance and for fuel spills.  On more than one occasion, I got my uniforms and shoes soaked with gas. 

Fast Gas

For Richard


Before the days of self service,

when you never had to pump your own gas,

I was the one who did it for you, the girl

who stepped out at the sound of a bell

with a blue rag in my hand, my hair pulled back

in a straight, unlovely ponytail.

This was before automatic shut-offs

and vapor seals, and once, while filling a tank,

I hit a bubble of trapped air and the gas

backed up, came arcing out of the hole

in a bright gold wave and soaked me — face, breasts,

belly and legs. And I had to hurry

back to the booth, the small employee bathroom

with the broken lock, to change my uniform,

peel the gas-soaked cloth from my skin

and wash myself in the sink.

Light-headed, scrubbed raw, I felt

pure and amazed — the way the amber gas

glazed my flesh, the searing,

subterranean pain of it, how my skin

shimmered and ached, glowed

like rainbowed oil on the pavement.

I was twenty. In a few weeks I would fall,

for the first time, in love, that man waiting

patiently in my future like a red leaf

on the sidewalk, the kind of beauty

that asks to be noticed. How was I to know

it would begin this way: every cell of my body

burning with a dangerous beauty, the air around me

a nimbus of light that would carry me

through the days, how when he found me,

weeks later, he would find me like that,

an ordinary woman who could rise

in flame, all he would have to do

is come close and touch me.


Dorienne Laux


This wonderful piece came from Facts about the Moon.


Tonight I Am In Love


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 wind-torn 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.

Whenas 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.


           Dorienne Laux 

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