NPM Curated Poem 9: Dorianne Laux’s “Balance”

I’ve loved this poem since someone, I think it was Steve Orlen, told me I should read Dorianne Laux’s What We Carry (BOA, 1994).  He was right, and this is one of my favorite poems in the book (from


By Dorianne Laux

I’m remembering again, the day
we stood on the porch and you smoked
while the old man told you
about his basement full of wine,
his bad heart and the doctor’s warning,
how he held the dusty bottle out to you,
glad, he said, to give it away
to someone who appreciated
its value and spirit, the years
it took to settle into its richness
and worth. I’m watching again,
each cell alive, as you reach
for the wine, your forearm exposed
below the rolled sleeve, the fine hairs
that sweep along the muscle, glowing,
lifting a little in the afternoon breeze.
I’m memorizing the shape of the moment:
your hand and the small bones
lengthening beneath the skin
as it tightens in the gripping,
in the receiving of the gift, the exact
texture and color of your skin,
and the old man’s face, reduced
to its essence. That,
and the brief second
when both of you had a hand on the bottle—
the thing not yet given,
not yet taken, but held
between you, stoppered, full.
And my body is flooded again
with an elemental joy,
holding onto it against another day
in the unknowable future when I’m given
terrible news, some dark burden
I’ll be forced to carry. I know
this is useless, and can’t possibly work,
but I’m saving that moment, for balance.

I love the pacing of this poem, those dependent clauses one after the other, but most of all I love the turn–“holding onto it against another day / in the uknowable future when I’m given / terrible news.”  I love that idea, that a perfect memory might, even if it’s “useless,” be kept in the hope of providing a kind of mental and emotional “balance.”  Just lovely.
YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  Isolate one perfect moment in your memory.  Tell the story of that moment, exploded into a longer narrative, rich with description.  Take as long as you possibly can to describe the scene in all its glorious detail.  Then, go somewhere else–what worries or negativities might be associated with, or brought up by, this one wonderful moment?

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