'We take on trust the dead are buried and gone'

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Dorianne Laux is one of our treasured poets. Her elegant poems grow out of the familiar. 'Urn' is beautifully inventive in the way she connects the moment of uneasy childlike delight in the inexplicable “magic” of a light switch (“I didn’t know/ where the light went”), with her struggle to face mortality. Laux’s new collection of poems, from which this lovely elegy comes, Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems, appeared in 2020.



by Dorianne Laux

I feel her swaying

under the earth, deep

in a basket of tree roots,

their frayed silk

keeping her calm,

a carpet of grass singing

Nearer my god to thee,

oak branches groaning in wind

coming up from the sea.


We take on trust the dead

are buried and gone,

the light doused for eternity,

the nevermore of their particulars

ground up, dispersed.

As a child I didn’t know

where the light went

when she flipped the switch,

though I once touched

the dark bulb that burned

my fingertips, studied the coiled

element trapped inside

seething with afterglow.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2020 by Dorianne Laux, 'Urn' from Only as the Day Is Long: New and Selected Poems (WW Norton & Company, 2020.) Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2021 by the Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Kwame Dawes, is George W Holmes Professor of English and Glenna Luschei Editor of Prairie Schooner at the University of Nebraska.



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