At night, down the hall into the bedroom we go.
In the morning we enter the kitchen.
Places, please. On like this,

without alarm. I am the talker and taker
he is the giver and the bedroom man.
We are out of order but not broken.

He says, let's make this one short.
She says, what do you mean?
We set out and got nearer.

Along the way some loved ones died.
Whole summers ruined that way.
Take me to the door, take me in your arms.

Mother's been dead a decade
but her voice comes back to me now and often.
Life accumulates, a series of commas,

first this, then that, then him, then here.
A clump of matter (paragraph)
and here we are: minutes, years.

Wait, I am trying to establish
something with these people.
Him, her, him. We make a little pantomime.

Family, I say, wake up. The sentences
one then another one, in a line. And then
we go on like that, for a long time.


About this poem:
"'Domestic' is part of a new manuscript, The Uses of the Body, which explores themes of gender, desire, marriage, monogamy, mortality (subjects I've written about previously) as well as pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood (subjects I've been reluctant to explore in poetry for fear of risking sentimentality). Although this material may seem familiar, I feel compelled to find fresh language, form, and syntax that can capture the immense strangeness of these experiences. This poem ('Domestic') comes at the end of a long sequence about marriage and domestic life."

Deborah Landau

More by Deborah Landau

from Blue Dark

the moon might rise and it might not
and if it brings a ghost light we will read beneath it

and if it returns to earth
we will listen for its phrases

and if I'm alone at the bedside table
I will have a ghost book to refer to

and when I lie back I'll see its imprint 
beneath my blood-red lids:

not lettered ink 
but the clean page

not sugar 
but the empty bowl

not flowers 
but the dirt 



*


blame the egg blame the fractured stones 
at the bottom of the mind

blame his darkblue glare and craggy mug
the bulky king of trudge and stein

how I love a masculine in my parlor
his grizzly shout and weight one hundred drums

in this everywhere of blunt and soft sinking
I am the heavy hollow snared

the days are spring the days are summer
the days are nothing and not dead yet


*


worry the river over its banks
the train into flames

worry the black rain into the city
the troops into times square

worry the windows cracked acidblack
and the children feverblistered

worry never another summer
never again to live here gentle
with the other inhabitants

then leave too quickly 
leave the pills and band-aids
the bathroom scale the Christmas lights the dog

go walking on our legs
dense and bare and useless

worry our throats and lungs
into taking the air

leave books on the shelves
leave keys dustpan 

telephones don't work where you were
in the chaos


*


and I couldn't bear it
the children nearing the place
where the waves wet the shore

vaporous force
rising imperceptibly behind

we were talking about circumstance
horizon-gates swinging open
beneath the cherry blooms

wave rising in the background
impalpable and final
a girl in a white dress       barefoot

wasn't I right to ask her to move in from the shore


*


this is the last usable hour

bird lured
through the window

a little sweet fruit

I could die here
and the hearsedriver
would take me out of this city

I'd say my name to him 
as we crossed the Triboro

I'd say it softly         the way he likes it

it would be the last time
I'd introduce myself that way

from The Uses of the Body

Before you have kids,
you get a dog.

Then when you get a baby,
you wait for the dog to die.

When the dog dies,
it’s a relief.

When your babies aren’t babies,
you want a dog again.

The uses of the body,
you see where they end.

But we are only in the middle,
only mid-way.

The organs growing older in their plush pockets
ticking toward the wearing out.

We are here and soon won’t be
(despite the cozy bed stuffed dog pillows books clock).

The boy with his socks on and pajamas.
A series of accidental collisions.

Pressure in the chest. Everyone breathing
for now, in and out, all night.

These sad things, they have to be.
I go into the kitchen thinking to sweeten myself.

Boiled eggs won’t do a thing.
Oysters. Lysol. Peanut butter. Gin.

Big babyface, getting fed.
I am twenty. I am thirty. I am forty years old.

A friend said Listen,
you have to try to calm down.

from "Late Summer"

I’m on a bike and someone’s name is forming.

The road is potholes the road is dust.

Cruising the dirt, the meadow humming with bugs.

Dust rising, tires crushing rock, bats ejecting from under the barn

streaming the insected air the pulse life repeating life looping back

slowing down getting longer though it didn’t and isn’t.

A little letting go of fear.

A little spittle in death’s eye.

Don’t ask don’t think (I didn’t ask or think).

Didn’t think don’t think.

I remember giving in to it lying back and then

little sprout of willow

spray of the earth green of leaves the light coming down

as if through a ferny veil dirty primal randomly animate

and we are in it still.

Related Poems

Domestic Mysticism

In thrice 10,000 seasons, I will come back to this world
In a white cotton dress. Kingdom of After My Own Heart.
Kingdom of Fragile. Kingdom of Dwarves. When I come home,
Teacups will quiver in their Dresden saucers, pentatonic chimes
Will move in wind. A covey of alley cats will swarm on the side
Porch & perch there, portents with quickened heartbeats
You will feel against your ankles as you pass through.

After the first millennium, we were supposed to die out.
You had your face pressed up against the coarse dyed velvet
Of the curtain, always looking out for your own transmigration:
What colors you would wear, what cut of jewel,
What kind of pageantry, if your legs would be tied
Down, if there would be wandering tribes of minstrels
Following with woodwinds in your wake.

This work of mine, the kind of work which takes no arms to do,
Is least noble of all. It's peopled by Wizards, the Forlorn,
The Awkward, the Blinkers, the Spoon-Fingered, Agnostic Lispers,
Stutterers of Prayer, the Flatulent, the Closet Weepers,
The Charlatans. I am one of those. In January, the month the owls
Nest in, I am a witness & a small thing altogether. The Kingdom
Of Ingratitude. Kingdom of Lies. Kingdom of How Dare I.

I go on dropping words like little pink fish eggs, unawares, slightly
Illiterate, often on the mark. Waiting for the clear whoosh
Of fluid to descend & cover them. A train like a silver 
Russian love pill for the sick at heart passes by
My bedroom window in the night at the speed of mirage.
In the next millenium, I will be middle aged. I do not do well
In the marrow of things. Kingdom of Trick. Kingdom of Drug.

In a lung-shaped suburb of Virginia, my sister will be childless
Inside the ice storm, forcing the narcissus. We will send
Each other valentines. The radio blowing out
Vaughan Williams on the highway's purple moor.
At nine o'clock, we will put away our sewing to speak
Of lofty things while, in the pantry, little plants will nudge
Their frail tips toward the light we made last century.

When I come home, the dwarves will be long
In their shadows & promiscuous. The alley cats will sneak
Inside, curl about the legs of furniture, close the skins
Inside their eyelids, sleep. Orchids will be intercrossed & sturdy.
The sun will go down as I sit, thin armed, small breasted
In my cotton dress, poked with eyelet stitches, a little lace,
In the queer light left when a room snuffs out.

I draw a bath, enter the water as a god enters water:
Fertile, knowing, kind, surrounded by glass objects
Which could break easily if mishandled or ill-touched.
Everyone knows an unworshipped woman will betray you.
There is always that promise, I like that. Kingdom of Kinesis.
Kingdom of Benevolent. I will betray as a god betrays,
With tenderheartedness. I've got this mystic streak in me.