Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Beauty and Brutality: Facts About the Moon

Dorianne Laux. Facts About the Moon. First Edition. NY, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.

The title poem appears midway in Laux's newest collection, a deliberate placement to emphasize not so much the tone but the archetypal drive of this work.

The poem begins in a plain-spoken literal way: "The moon is backing away from us / an inch and a half a year," then drifts toward a personification in which the speaker tells the reader:
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

Laux personalizes the equation of a grieving mother into the image of such a being, "romanticizing" her culprit of a son. A mother who has "forgotten the bruises and booze," is coupled with a cold-eyed observer who wants to "slap her back to sanity" until the observer recognizes the futility. There's no logic in the room for "you know love when you see it, / you can feel its lunar strength, its brutal pull."

Facts About the Moon follows a similar structure: poems of literal image and personification ("The Trees"); poems of anchored abstracts and allegory ("Democracy," "The Ravens of Denali"). Again and again, she portrays the "brutal pull" of love, whether in her lyric to a fallen hummingbird or the narrative journey leading to a brother's grave.

The "lunar strength" emerges in poems such as "Moon in the Window" or in the aching couplets, the catalog of "What's Broken." She celebrates it in odes to a lover ("Face Poem," "Kissing Again," "Vacation Sex") and in her delicate lyrics to nature ("Cello," "Mornming Song," "Starling," "Come Spring" and "The Life of Trees").

Laux makes the mundane valuable, incorporates those things that determine everyday order and rhythm: jigsaw puzzles and laundry. She juxtaposes the tedium of housework with what matters: "the bleachy,/ waxy, soapy perfume of spring."

Facts About the Moon contains the variety and brutality of what is under the sun, in motion across the earth, characterized by a babysitter suckling her eight year-old charge, a pool hall starlet and sisters bonding: "Pretending we were beautiful,/ pretending we were dead." The pedophile father, Fred the German neighbor, symbol and antithesis of the Holocaust, the shadow of Mathew Shepard, strung up and left for dead - all these citizens of earth are gathered together in this volume, anchored by the moon and undone by the moon. In the background, the soothing, patient perfection of this planet's wildness. These are the facts, brutal and common, of the moon.

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