Even after everything we know Mother
I would meet you forehead to forehead
like horses in a field,
I would come to you again,
splitting the dark, your voice,
your dishes, money from your purse,
Your cathedral heart, the arches of your feet,
your voice, your face I have borrowed,
caught up in a stolen barrette my hair
splayed in your lap,
your long leg bones,
your capped teeth,
in the crockery of your hands.
I would have endured injury after injury.
Would have chosen you if you had not
chosen me. Breathing in
the garden of your hair
the dust of stars
rinsed from your body
after the longest night I would come to you.
Scrubbed of its grease in the sink,
the last plunge of the blade
pulled out, I would
clothe my bones as I ate of you
as you would eat the light
to clothe your roundness,
the cave of your being,
in last light—shank of the evening,–
I would come to you.
I left the pain of my tooth in the heart
of the mountain, its roots tangled in the roots
of stunted trees, the shape of the pain
the color of huckleberry, the taste extract
of fritillaria, that mottled molar-shaped flower
that grows in high grassland meadows,
chocolate-brown and greenish-yellow
checkerboard pattern, named dice-box,
chess flower, snake’s head, frog-cup,
leper lily. Lazarus Bell for what
the afflicted held and rang as they walked,
a warning smelling of fox, feces,
These skunk lilies, these outhouse flowers,
these dirty diapers. Tuber root
for grizzly bears, eaten like rice
or potatoes by the indigenous people
of the Northern Pacific Rim, slightly
poisonous, found almost everywhere.
It is the sturdy county flower of Oxfordshire,
provincial flower of Uppland, Sweden, floral
emblem of Japan’s Obihiro City, inspiration
for the pattern on Croatia’s Coat of Arms.
The Chinese bent down, took in
its fetid scent, crushed its bulb against
the sides of bowls to quiet a cough.
Cooked, it smells like baked chestnuts.
How did we know to pull up beauty
by the root, take the death stench
into our mouths, mash those bearded growths
to pulp beneath a tongue of moon
in alpine meadows among other species
who graze and lift their heads, their great jaws
wheeling over a valley of lilies, their
hard hooves darkening, shiny with dew.
Dorianne Laux’s most recent collections areThe Book of Men and Facts about the Moon, both available from W.W. Norton. She and her husband, poet Joseph Millar, moved to Raleigh in 2008 where she teaches in and directs the MFA program at North Carolina State University. A National Book Critics’ Circle Award and Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize Finalist, Laux’s other honors include a Pushcart Prize, two Best American Poetry selections, two NEA Fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Recent poems appear in APR, Cimarron Review, Tin House,and The Valparaiso Review.