Dorianne Laux: Metaphoric Resonance in Facts About the Moon

One of the greatest pleasures of Laux’s poems is the way her metaphors weave together, form associations, and sing as one chorus. She creates tight and complex webs of meaning in which concrete descriptions tangle with metaphor and metaphor then re-emerges as concrete descriptions. I’d like to call this poetic effect resonance—the way Laux uses rich metaphors that last an entire poem, tie that poem tightly together, and echo in a resounding way long after the final line.

Photo by Tristen Laux

Take, for example, the title poem from this collection, “Facts About the Moon.”  The poem begins in cold, scientific fact: “The moon is backing away from us/an inch and a half each year.”  For the next 21 lines, the speaker frets about this fact, and all of its cosmic and earthly repercussions. Then, just when you think Laux has exhausted every poetic epiphany one could have about the moon’s fate, she hits you with turn #1:

“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.”

Wow!  Classic Laux in its simplicity, earnestness, and perfectly-crafted lines.  (Note how circular readings of the lines lend even more tension). Syntactically, Laux uses these clipped phrases (plus a few more very short sentences) to prepare us for the 25-line sentence that follows, and that takes us to the end of the poem. This sentence quickly moves from a lyrical description of the moon to a huge turn toward an altogether new focus:

“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, mother

can’t help it, she loves that boy

anyway…”

The description of the mother waiting for her grown-up son outside his hospital room, pleading with herself for the boy’s innocence until (literally) the very end, continues until the very end of the poem, when Laux describes the mother’s eyes as “two craters” and her love as a “lunar strength.” The moon-mother metaphor has now been flipped around to a mother-moon metaphor, and it’s extremely satisfying as a form of poetic closure.

On a smaller scale, I could point to “Cello,” a 16-line poem in which the resonant metaphors occur not as turns, as in “Facts About the Moon,” but as a fully-enmeshed, interdependent organism. In this poem, Laux first personifies the death of a tree as it falls into the “arms” of a living tree. Subsequent descriptions focus on the tree’s “pinkish, yellowish” “flesh” and its “body.” Simultaneously, Laux teases us with details associated with the title image—“dead music” full of “moans and bends” occurring as the dead tree rubs against the body of the living tree. Then, in the last two lines of the poem, Laux jams these two metaphors together again for the final couplet:

“the deep/roisined bow sound of the living

shouldering the dead.”

The word “shoulder” brings us back to a human form—to an image of one human body carrying another—while simultaneously evoking the image of a beautiful cello resting on the shoulder of a musician. The fact that both images can hit the reader at the same time is a testament to how expertly-woven the metaphors are here.  And the ways they rub against each other (to borrow Laux’s own image) only make them resonate more on their own.

Even in a narrative poem like “Superglue,” Laux works these kinds of tricks with her metaphors.  The first nine lines of the poem describe the speaker’s experience supergluing her fingers together, and then comes the first turn:

“thinking: This is how I began inside

my mother’s belly, before I divided toe from toe, bloomed

into separation like a peach-colored rose…”

This cellular division (inside one woman’s body) of the fetus starts at the ankles and travels from knees to thighs to crotch, where the split is described as a “want” that the speaker will “carry” for the rest of her life. The transition from cellular fetal maturation to sexual desire is dizzingly seamless and hard to pinpoint, but, like the transition from moon to mother in “Facts,” it does occur in a long sentence pinned together by a slew of commas.

At the end of the poem, the speaker’s husband enters and the speaker writes:

“I want to kiss him, to climb him,

to stuff him inside me and fill that space, poised

on the brink of opening opening opening

as my wrinkled fingers, pale and slippery,

remember themselves, and part.”

The image of the fingers parting at the end thus resonates not just in its narrative context (hurray! my fingers are unglued!) but with the added tension and depth of the existential (cellular development) and sexual metaphors. In a way, the merging of all three of these “meanings” for the one image at the end of the poem represents a kind of climax—a huge energy release for speaker, writer, and reader that provides closure while resonating long after.

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