|Ted Kooser, US Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. Photo by UNL Publications and Photography.|
An exchange of stories is frequently one of the first steps toward a friendship. Here’s the recollection of one of those exchanges, by Dorianne Laux, who lives and teaches in North Carolina.
I had a boyfriend who told me stories about his family,
how an argument once ended when his father
seized a lit birthday cake in both hands
and hurled it out a second-story window. That,
I thought, was what a normal family was like: anger
sent out across the sill, landing like a gift
to decorate the sidewalk below. In mine
it was fists and direct hits to the solar plexus,
and nobody ever forgave anyone. But I believed
the people in his stories really loved one another,
even when they yelled and shoved their feet
through cabinet doors, or held a chair like a bottle
of cheap champagne, christening the wall,
rungs exploding from their holes.
I said it sounded harmless, the pomp and fury
of the passionate. He said it was a curse
being born Italian and Catholic and when he
looked from that window what he saw was the moment
rudely crushed. But all I could see was a gorgeous
three-layer cake gliding like a battered ship
down the sidewalk, the smoking candles broken, sunk
deep in the icing, a few still burning.
American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation ( www.poetryfoundation.org ), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2000 by Dorianne Laux, whose most recent book of poems is The Book of Men, W.W. Norton & Co., 2011. Poem reprinted from Smoke, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2000, by permission of Dorianne Laux and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2012 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. They do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.