The Anxiety of Influence

A long black jogger swings in off the street to
splash his face in the sink and I watch the room
become a sweet humid jungle. We crowd around
the Amazon at the watering hole, twitching our noses
like wildebeests or buffalo, snorting, rooting out
mates in the heat. I want to hump every moving thing
in this place. I want to lie down in the dry dung
and dust and twist to scratch my back. I want to
stretch and prowl and grow lazy in the shade.
— from “The Laundromat” by Dorianne Laux

When she read this poem to an audience
of maybe a hundred and fifty writers,

it was already old to her, written some
years back, about two minutes of a morning

before she turned thirty, an invisible
episode that when it happened embarrassed

her but also felt really good remembering
it for a day or two, but then it disappeared

or sank down into the deep layers of her
memory where only dreams could fetch it up—

or the occasion of writing something,
which was what desire was becoming for her

now that she was a mother, crazy busy
all day long and that old outlaw had no time

for her except some early mornings he’d drop
by while she sipped her coffee, sit with her

at her old kitchen table, and hum softly
while she fiddled with a poem, which was when

that almost nothing arose in her and became
words penciled on a notepad, erased and marked

through like a kid had just fooled around instead
of doing her homework, and it took her back

to the way she’d felt that day, blushing for her
thoughts, but it was also like she’d made the whole

thing up, and she wasn’t sure it was worth keeping,
but she typed it into her computer, changed

it until she couldn’t change it anymore,
and finally sent it out, which was how it

officially became a poem: How it looked
in print pleased her, no matter that it wasn’t

Prufrock or The Bridge or even This Is Just
to Say, never mind that it said what she knew

she’d never have said aloud or that it wasn’t
what really happened: It was the boldest truth

of her, and there it was, spoken forever
and not to be erased. So when she read it

to all these writers, and one of them stood up
just after she’d quietly sounded the words

I want to hump every moving thing and left
the room, she never faltered, her voice held

so steady it was like she hadn’t even
seen him, but she had, she knew him, knew his poems,

had learned from him as if he’d been her teacher,
and that was the exact moment that she knew

she could say she was a poet without a shred
of doubt, and it was God damn thrilling for it

to happen while that poem was flowing up
over her tongue, out of her mouth, out to all

those writers sitting there listening to her—
though something in her wanted to call to him,

the old man, walking across the lawn away
from her, wanted to catch up to him, take hold

of his arm, and say, Hey, brother, please don’t take
offense, it’s just a little something I made up.