Dorianne Laux
Abschnieds Symphony

Someone I love is dying, which is why, 
when I turn the key in the ignition 
and back the car out of the parking space 
in the underground garage, and the radio 
comes on, sudden and loud, something 
by Haydn, a diminishing fugue, and maneuver 
the car through the dimly lit tunnels 
with their low ceilings, following the yellow arrows 
stenciled at intervals on the gray cement walls, 
I think of him, moving slowly through the last 
hard days of his life and I can't stop crying. 
When I arrive at the toll gate I have to make myself
stop thinking as I dig in my pockets for the last 
of my coins, turn to the attendant, indifferent 
in his blue smock, his white hair curling like smoke 
around his weathered neck, and say Thank you, 
like an idiot, and drive into the blinding midday light. 
Everything is hideously symbolic, 
and everything reminds me of cancer: 
the Chevron truck, its rounded underbelly 
spattered with road grit and the sweat 
of last night's rain, the dumpster 
behind the flower shop, its sprung lid 
pressing down on dead wedding bouquets-- 
even the smell of something simple, coffee drifting 
from the open door of a cafe and my eyes 
glaze over, ache in their sockets. 
For months now all I've wanted is the blessing 
of inattention, to move carefully from room to room 
in my small house, numb with forgetfulness. 
To eat a bowl of cereal and not imagine him, 
scrubbed thin and pale, unable to swallow. 
How not to imagine the tumors 
ripening beneath his skin, flesh 
I have kissed, stroked with my fingertips, 
pressed my belly and breasts against, some nights 
so hard I thought I could enter him, open 
his back at the spine like a door or a curtain
and slip in like a small fish between his ribs, 
nudge the coral of his brain with my lips, 
brushing over the blue coils of his bowels 
with the fluted silk of my tail. 
Death is not romantic. He is dying, 
no matter how I see it, no matter 
what I believe, that fact is stark
and one dimensional, atonal, 
a black note on an empty staff. 
My feet are cold, but not as cold as his, 
and I hate this music that floods 
the cramped insides of my car, my head, 
slowing the world down with its 
lurid majesty, transforming everything I see
into some sort of memorial to life, 
no matter how ugly or senseless-- 
even the old Ford in front of me, 
its battered rear end thinning to scallops of rust, 
pumping black classical clouds of exhaust 
into the shimmering air-- even the tenacious 
nasturtiums clinging to a fence, vine and bloom 
of the insignificant, music spilling 
from their open faces, spooling upward, past
the last rim of blue and into the still pool 
of another galaxy, as if all that emptiness 
were a place of benevolence, a destination, 
a peace we could rise to.

Found In Volume 25, No. 06
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Dorianne Laux
About the Author

Dorianne Laux's books include The Book of Men (W. W. Norton & Co, 2012); Facts About the Moon (2005), which was the recipient of the Oregon Book Award, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Smoke (BOA Editions, 2000); What We Carry (1994), finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Awake (1990), which was nominated for the San Francisco Bay Area Book Critics Award for Poetry.