Cotton Xenomorph is a new literary journal produced with the mission to showcase new, and ecstatic art while reducing language of oppression in our community. We are dedicated to uplifting new and established voices while engaging in thoughtful conversation around social justice.


Introduction by Editor Teo Mungaray: I first heard Dorianne Laux read this poem at my last residency in Pacific University of Oregon’s low-residency MFA. At that point, I had been lucky enough not to have anyone affected by the opioid crisis consuming the US. Now, that isn’t true anymore. For months, since that reading in June 2018, I’ve had lines from this poem echoing in my head. I would go on Google and search snippets of lines I could remember so that I could read it again, but I never found any results. Friend of Laux and editor of Prairie Schooner, Kwame Dawes had asked her for this poem the night of that reading for print. I can understand his need to have this poem for his magazine - I’m doing it myself. I sincerely hope you enjoy this poem as much as I did, that it haunts you the same way it did me.

by Dorianne Laux

It wasn’t snowing, and then it was,
like death, like my sister’s texts
that just stopped: I’m in the hospital
then a phone call: We did everything
we could: endocarditis, valve leakage
her heart on heroin.  She wasn’t addicted

and then she was, on and off, for years
her and her daughter, my niece, living
on the streets, every few weeks a phone call:
we need a motel room, food.  Once we ordered them
a pizza from the other coast where we had moved
to get away from them, though we couldn’t

quite quit them, addicted to family, a feeling,
a rush of guilt, the wrong address, we never knew
where the pizza went.  She was a statistic,
one of the twelve-fold increase, they must have
folded her clothes, dropped them in a bag
with her purse, her phone, what little

she had left, though the woman’s shelter
had no record, though they had other bags
she’d filled with nothing more than rags:
a wealth of sweatpants, unraveled sweaters,
a box of makeup and a toothless comb, picture
her grandchild had scribbled in with magic marker:

a parrot in a cage, its folded wings bled through
to the other side. I understand how it happened,
but it doesn’t matter, it was inevitable, unavoidable,
if anyone of us was going to fall prey it was her,
middle child of too many to count, not enough
love to go around. I was in New York, it was

snowing, Michael Moore was on-stage
in front of an American flag when the phone
buzzed, went to the stairwell where I was told,
alone on the metal steps, She’s gone, sobbing
when a voice from a dark doorway asked
Are you alright? a guard in his booth,

My sister died.  He handed me a box
of Kleenex and closed the door, it seemed,
to give me privacy. Back in the cab I sat
between my girlfriends, hip to hip,
like sisters, an arm around each shoulder,
all night we had been laughing and then

we weren’t, they asked me questions
and then they stopped and we rode on
into the snow, powder, black tar, brown
sugar, junk, scag, skunk, dragon, china white.
Snow. Then the cabbie turned right and eased
through a slew of pedestrians, a sea of coats 

and gloves, wool scarves, faces hidden
beneath hats, it was like the whole country
was out on night patrol, trudging forward
stolidly, seriously, like we had to plow our way
through it, keep our heads down, keep going.

Reproduced from Prairie Schooner Volume 92, No. 4 (Winter 2018) by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. Copyright 2018 by the University of Nebraska Press.

Dorianne Laux’s fifth collection, The Book of Men, was awarded The Paterson Prize. Her fourth book of poems, Facts About the Moon won The Oregon Book Award and was short-listed for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Laux is also the author of AwakeWhat We Carry, a finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award; Smoke; as well as a fine small press edition, The Book of Women. She is the co-author of the celebrated text The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. Laux teaches poetry in the Program in Creative Writing at North Carolina State University and is a founding faculty member of Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program. Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected, was released by W.W. Norton in early 2019.


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