Tom Lux Photographed by Deanna Sirlin
By Thomas Lux
(December 10, 1946 – February 5, 2017)
Thomas Lux’s career is one that spans decades with at least twelve books of poems spread across those years, as well as recently a collection of non-fiction essays called From the Southland (Marick Press, 2012). Lux’s work is known for taking images from the “everyday,” the mundane and spinning them into the fantastic. Lux’s poetic vision is uniquely his own. Take for instance, his poem “Man Peddling Next to His Bicycle” from his book God Particles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008):
beside his bicycle, pedals
wondering where the mountains went,
the pastures, swing sets, the humans tending
to human things. Where did they
go—that which, those whom, he was meant to glide past,
or love, on this journey?
Similar to this bicycle “non-rider,” when one begins reading Lux’s poems, or most exactly put, when one enters the world of Lux’s poems, the reader has the experience of the “real” world melting away and wondering where it went in those moments of being held in the dream.
The poems in Lux’s forthcoming collection, Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), which is set to be released in November of this year, are perhaps among Lux’s most autobiographical—the term “autobiographical” used here is not to mean memoir, confessional or some “straight up” telling of the poet’s past, instead, in true Thomas Lux fashion, these poems are informed by the poet’s own experiences over a lifetime—loves, both lost and gained, mother, father, home life. Each poem is spoken by a carefully crafted persona with the ethos to have us quickly realize that the joy in these poems is the fact that they are worldly—in praise of the world—and utterly human.
--Travis Wayne Denton
To listen to Thomas Lux read his poems, please click on the audio player that appears above each text.
A FROZEN BALL OF RATTLESNAKES
How’d they get in a ball?
What do you mean by a ball, how many in it,
and do you mean stone-frozen?
Or do you mean dormant, sluggish, half-hibernating?
Snakes can do that, right?
Rattlesnakes live in other countries too.
There are many species, right?
I’d seen copperheads and cottonmouths
in some mountains
and a few desultory streams I knew.
I live in a large Southern metropolis now
and my neighbors
found a rattler (albeit a small one) in their cellar.
Killed it with a shovel.
They have a child, and a dog.
In the frozen ball, do they wake up one by one?
Are those closest to the middle
warmer than the others?
They’re all cold-blooded.
Lincoln used the phrase, metaphorically, more than once.
It’s a good metaphor, easy to read, vivid. Metaphors
should be, and sometimes
should terrify: A man chops
off another man’s head, props
the corpse sitting up against a roadside pole
and places the man’s head, in his hands,
on his lap.
A DELIVERY OF DUNG
interrupted Wordsworth as he drafted “Intimations of Immortality.”
A timely wagonload
if one considers only
the title. An honest man knows
there is no such thing—immortality—hints or no hints.
I prefer Wordsworth the Younger,
his early/mid 30s, when the abovementioned
was written, when he, and Dorothy,
still had most of their teeth
and before he was spoiled (milk-sopped,
and walking like an Alderman
fed on too much turtle soup) by Dorothy (sister),
Mary (wife), and Sara (sister-in-law), and sometimes even another
Sarah (Coleridge’s wife, estranged!)
Wordsworth the Older
obtained a sinecure selling stamps,
wrote many bad poems,
lived a long, honorable life and,
truth is: he is immortal,
or as close as a corpse can get, would be
immortal for the first four stanzas of “Intimations”
alone. Those stanzas alone.
Anonymous—“Western Wind”—achieved the same with four lines!
No piece of art is perfect.
All it has to do is stay around
for two hundred, or five hundred,
or a few thousand
years. It (art) always changing; us,
not so much.
BRICKS SINKING IN DEEP WATER
At what depth does their dull orange disappear?
I rowed out to where I know the water’s deep,
and in my rowboat: a cargo
of bricks, fifty balanced
across the stern, just so.
At the bottom of this reservoir
was a town. Two towns, in truth.
Its people were paid an honest price
to leave, but no question: they had to move.
I anchor my boat forty feet above
what was once a pasture.
I take a brick from port first
and hold it by its upper right corner
and dip its lower left corner into the water
before I let it slip my fingers.
The next one I take from starboard,
but drop from port, and so forth and on.
It’s the sinestra hand that does the work.
I never counted two seconds before one was gone
from touch, and sound, and sight. They sink until they stop
on now drowned and grassless land.
Why do I want to leave a small scattering
of man-made triangular stones
at the bottom of this no-bones
(the cemetery relocated)
body of water? In darkness, who does not love
the faint, hard, orange glow
of building bricks?
At the fence line, I was about to call him in when,
at two-thirds profile, head low
and away from me, he fell first
to his right front knee
and then the left, and he was down,
dead before he hit the…
My Father saw him drop, too,
and a neighbor, who walked over.
He was a good horse, old,
spavined, eating grass during the day
and his oats and hay
at night. He didn’t mind, or try to boss, the cows
with which he shared these acres.
My father said: Happens. Our neighbor,
named Malcolm, walked back to his place
and was soon grinding towards us
with his tractor’s new backhoe,
of which he was proud
but so far only used to dig two sump holes.
It was the knacker who’d haul away a cow.
A horse, a good horse, you buried
where he, or she, fell. Malcolm
cut a trench beside the horse
and we pushed him in.
I’d already said good bye
before I tried to close his eyes.
Our neighbor returned the dirt
from where it came. In it: stones,
stones never, never seen before
by an human’s, nor even a worm’s, eye.
With the back of a shovel,
we tamped the dirt down.
One dumb cow
stood by. It was a Friday.
For supper we ate hot dogs, with beans
on buttered white bread, every Friday,
hot dogs and beans.
My father said: Fox took another chicken last night
and scared two others to death,
and your goddamn dog never lifted his head.
Kill it. He meant the fox,
not the dog. I followed his tracks
and the small splats
of blood and brown feathers
through the snow (I was glad
it snowed, I couldn’t track a moose
on dry ground) to his foxhole
near the top of a steep hill
about a half mile away; fresh, loose
dirt marked it easy among some small pines.
I knew not to go too near
and leave my scent,
so set up a good shot thirty yards away.
I built a small wall of snow, tripodded my rifle.
When he comes out of his den again
I’ll shoot the red fox dead.
Two hours later,
I hear my father call: Fox took another chicken!
I moved neither my blue finger
from the trigger nor the crosshairs
off his foxhole. Turns out, he had a back door.
In no foxhole I’d ever seen or heard of—in movies,
comics, TV shows, school, and later, in books,
did a foxhole have a back door; no, only one door,
upward, through the roof—a helmet usually—over which,
and through which, bullets and shrapnel tore.
Thomas Lux was born in Massachusetts in December 1946. He has been awarded grants and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Mellon foundation, and the NEA. In 1994, he was awarded the Kinglsey Tufts prize for his book Split Horizon. The most recent of his 11 full-length collections is God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). His forthcoming collection, Child Made of Sand, will appear from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the Fall of 2012. His collection of nonfiction essays, From the Southland is soon to be released from Marick Press. Currently, he is Bourne Professor of Poetry and director of the McEver Visiting Writers program at the Georgia Institute of Technology as well as on the MFA faculties of Sarah Lawrence College and Warren Wilson College.
Travis Wayne Denton lives in Atlanta where he is the Associate Director of Poetry @ TECH as well as McEver Chair in Poetry at Georgia Tech. He is also founding editor of the literary arts publication, Terminus Magazine. His poems have appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies. His second collection of poems, When Pianos Fall from the Sky, will be published Fall 2012.