The Lyre

Dorianne Laux


They say Nero fiddled while Rome burned, though
 of course there were no fiddles, and the violin
was still curled like a secret inside the trees, waiting to be
cesareaned by Amati, carved from ebony, maple and spruce,
the most famous and oldest among them, the most
pristine, being “Le Messie” or the “Salabue”
made by Antonio Stradivari in 1717, and never used,
hung like a cadaver in the Ashmolean Museum.

It was April 20th, 2010 when the oil began pumping
into the Gulf of Mexico.  We watched the news
on our flat screens and ipads.  We watched
ripe beds of kelp wash up on the beige sand,
the gloved hands scrubbing the blackened beaks
of pelicans, that collapsible bird that’s been around
for 30 thousand years.  We watched the last
great buckets of grey shrimp poured and weighed

like grain, and the faces of fishermen give way.
We saw the trawlers head out, dragging
their long booms, capturing little acres of oil,
we saw the sheen, like an old silver mirror,
we saw fire on the water– it was so real
we could almost smell the sweet black plumes.
Some of us sang.  Some of us stood racked
with fear.  Most of us went about the business

of our day, discussing the price of gas, buying
lottery tickets at the supermarket, a bag of chips. 
Mostly, we didn’t think about it.  Who could? 
Because it was so deep under the water, out of view. 
It’s not like the city itself was burning or even
the forest around the city. Therefore we woke
and worked or looked for work, so many of us
out of work by then, and after work we walked

to the park with our children and friends, barbequed
through the long weekend, Memorial Day, the day
we once set aside to commemorate the Union dead
in the Civil War, though now we try not to think of it
as the Civil War because it’s too confusing-
The Greys, The Blues.  Just the war dead in general
was how we took care of that.  If this was the end
of the world as we knew it, we didn’t know it.

We were a large country, a country that ran on luck,
and the year had been both unseasonably warm
and unreasonably cool.  We didn’t know
what to do.  But yes, some of us sang.



Dorianne Laux’s most recent books are The Book of Men and Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), recipient of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press.  Her poems have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Korean, Romanian, Dutch, Afrikkans and Brazilian Portuguese.  Her selected works, In a Room with a Rag in my Hand, have been translated into Arabic by Camel/Kalima Press, 2009. She teaches poetry at North Carolina State University.

First appeared in Orion Magazine.


Dorianne Laux


The moon is backing away from us
an inch and a half each year.  That means
if you’re like me and were born
around fifty years ago, the moon
was a full six feet closer to the earth.
What’s a person supposed to do?
I feel the gray cloud of consternation
travel across my face.  I begin thinking
about the moon-lit past, how if you go back
far enough you can imagine the breathtaking
hugeness of the moon, prehistoric
solar eclipses when the moon covered the sun
so completely there was no corona, only
a darkness we had no word for. 
And future eclipses will look like this: the moon
a small black pupil in the eye of the sun.
But these are bald facts. 
What bothers me most is that someday
the moon will spiral right out of orbit
and all land-based life will die.
The moon keeps the oceans from swallowing
the shores, keeps the electromagnetic fields
in check at the polar ends of the earth.
And please, don’t tell me
what I already know, that it won’t happen
for a long time.  I don’t care.  I’m afraid
of what will happen to the moon. 
Forget us.  We don’t deserve the moon.
Maybe we once did but not now
after all we’ve done.  These nights
I harbor a secret pity for the moon, rolling
around alone in space without
her milky planet, her only love, a mother
who’s lost a child, a bad child,
a greedy child or maybe a grown boy
who’s murdered and raped, a mother
can’t help it, she loves that boy
anyway, and in spite of herself
she misses him, and if you sit beside her
on the padded hospital bench
outside the door to his room you can’t not
take her hand, listen to her while she
weeps, telling you how sweet he was,
how blue his eyes, and you know she’s only
romanticizing, that she’s conveniently
forgotten the bruises and booze,
the stolen car, the day he ripped
phones from the walls, and you want
to slap her back to sanity, remind her
of the truth: he was a leech, a fuck-up,
a little shit, and you almost do
until she lifts her pale puffy face, her eyes
two craters, and then you can’t help it
either, you know love when you see it,
you can feel it’s lunar strength, its brutal pull. 


Dorianne Laux – From her forthcoming book, Facts About the Moon.  Please see author’s complete biographical information in her additional works for SPRING, 2011 and, on the Author’s Page.