March 26, 2011

Dorianne Laux

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.

from Rattle #25, Summer 2006

[download audio]

__________

Dorianne Laux: “I came to poetry—this is almost a quote from my autobiography—through the doors of a novel called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Not so much the novel itself, although I loved the novel very much, but there was a little quote at the beginning of the novel which was much like a poem. I mostly read novels as a child growing up, but there was something about poetry, the idea of rhyming and rhythm and language and the music in language that attracted me. And so I began to write poems that rhymed, and were in a meter and form, and then eventually broke out of that when I started reading contemporary poets and realized that they did no longer rhyme. But that’s how I came to it, through novels. Sometimes I think that’s why I ended up choosing to be such a narrative poet.” (website)