from "Soft Targets"

Deborah Landau
A breath leaves the body, and wishes it could return maybe,
the news to the left and right rich with failure, terror, dither,
the bloated moon in constant charge of us like vapor—
 
and this did frame our constituency, even in our cozy homes
even in a painless state on the downriver, oh oblivion—
sipping champagne as another night brings forth its big dancing plan its damage.
 
I had a thought but it turned autumn, turned cold.
I had a body, unwearied, vital, despite the funeral in everything—
ample with bodies, covered in graves and gardens, potholes and water,
 
an ardent river we walked together, a wine and rising breeze.
Much trouble at hand, yet the lilies still.
That summer we sat with our backs to the street, letting time  pass—
 
lying all afternoon in the grass as if green and insect were the world.
I am, I am, and you are, you are, we wrote, until the paper seemed a tree again
and we walked beneath it greener and unsullied afresh.
 
Massive powers that be, what will be?
We smoke our pipes to forget you
& mildly now we bide our time
 
the violence and real cities under siege,
but also filled this morning
with coffee drinkers, office workers, taxi drivers, boys on bikes.
 
Golden we were in the moment of conception,
and alive, as if we always would be.
 

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

Domestic

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

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.

Related Poems

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss—we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.