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Dawn

James Laughlin
Often now as an old man 
Who sleeps only four hours a night, 
I wake before dawn, dress and go down 
To my study to start typing: 
Poems, letters, more pages 
In the book of recollections. 
Anything to get words flowing, 
To get them out of my head 
Where they're pressing so hard 
For release it's like a kind 
Of pain. My study window 
Faces east, out over the meadow, 
And I see this morning 
That the sheep have scattered 
On the hillside, their white shapes 
Making the pattern of the stars 
In Canis Major, the constellation 
Around Sirius, the Dog Star, 
Whom my father used to point 
Out to us, calling it 
For some reason I forget 
Little Dog Peppermint. 

What is this line I'm writing? 
I never could scan in school. 
It's certainly not an Alcaic. 
Nor a Sapphic. Perhaps it's 
The short line Rexroth used 
In The Dragon & The Unicorn,
Tossed to me from wherever 
He is by the Cranky Old Bear 
(but I loved him). It's really 
Just a prose cadence, broken 
As I breathe while putting 
My thoughts into words; 
Mostly they are stored-up 
Memories—dove sta memoria. 
Which one of the Italians 
Wrote that? Dante or Cavalcanti? 
Five years ago I'd have had 
The name on the tip of my tongue 
But no longer. In India
They call a storeroom a godown,
But there's inventory
For my godown. I can't keep 
Track of what's m there. 
All those people in books 
From Krishna & the characters 
In the Greek Anthology 
Up to the latest nonsense 
Of the Deconstructionists, 
Floating around in my brain, 
A sort of "continuous present"
As Gertrude Stein called it; 
The world in my head 
Confusing me about the messy 
World I have to live in. 
Better the drunken gods of Greece 
Than a life ordained by computers. 

My worktable faces east; 
I watch for the coming 
Of the dawnlight, raising 
My eyes occasionally from 
The typing to rest them, 
There is always a little ritual, 
A moment's supplication 
To Apollo, god of the lyre; 
Asking he keep an eye on me 
That I commit no great stupidity. 
Phoebus Apollo, called also 
Smintheus the mousekiller
For the protection he gives 
The grain of the farmers. My 
Dawns don't come up like thunder 
Though I have been to Mandalay 
That year when I worked in Burma. 
Those gentle, tender people
Puzzled by modern life; 
The men, the warriors, were lazy, 
It was the women who hustled, 
Matriarchs running the businesses. 
And the girls bound their chests 
So their breasts wouldn't grow; 
Who started that, and why? 
My dawns come up circumspectly, 
Quietly with no great fuss. 
Night was and in ten minutes 
Day is, unless of course 
It's raining hard. Then comes 
My first breakfast. I can't cook 
So it's only tea, puffed wheat and 
Pepperidge Farm biscuits. 
Then a cigar. Dr Luchs 
Warned me the cigars 
Would kill me years ago 
But I'm still here today. 

Copyright © 2005 by James Laughlin. From Byways. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing.

Copyright © 2005 by James Laughlin. From Byways. Reprinted with permission of New Directions Publishing.

James Laughlin