The Orion office overlooks a thin stand of trees and a mid-sized New England river, and it’s a great place to watch the seasons change. As our corner of the world begins to awaken from the twenty- and thirty-degree days of winter, paper-winged stoneflies tumble up and out of the river, and the smells of soil and newly unlocked water hang in the air.
In honor of the first day of spring, here’s a poem written from another, more northerly corner of the world, which first appeared in the March/April 2007 issue of Orion.
From all of us at Orion, best wishes for a peaceful and productive spring season.
In Alaska I slept in a bed on stilts, one arm
pressed against the ice feathered window,
the heat on high, sweat darkening the collar
of my cotton thermals. I worked hard to buy that bed,
walked towards it when the men in the booths
were finished crushing hundred dollar bills
into my hand, pitchers of beer balanced on my shoulder
set down like pots of gold. My shift ended at 5 a.m.:
station tables wiped clean, salt and peppers
replenished, ketchups married. I walked the dirt road
in my stained apron and snow boots, wool scarf,
second-hand gloves, steam rising
off the backs of horses wading chest deep in fog.
I walked home slow under Orion, his starry belt
hung heavy beneath the cold carved moon.
My room was still, quiet, squares of starlight
set down like blank pages on the yellow quilt.
I left the heat on because I could afford it, the house
hot as a sauna, and shed my sweater, my skirt,
toed off my boots, slung my damp socks
over the oil heater’s coils. I don’t know now
why I ever left. I slept like the dead
while outside my window the sun rose
low over the glacier, and the glacier did its best
to hold on, though one morning I woke to hear it
giving up, sloughing off a chunk of antediluvian ice
that sounded like the door to heaven opening
on a badly hung hinge. Those undefined days
I stared into the blue scar where the ice
had been, so clear and crystalline it hurt. I slept
in my small room and all night—or what passed for night
that far north—the geography of the world
outside my window was breaking, changing shape.
And I woke to it and looked at it and didn’t speak.
Dorianne Laux’s fifth collection of poetry, The Book of Men, is currently available from W. W. Norton. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and teaches at North Carolina State University. Image courtesy of Nathan deGargoyle.