“Break,” Dorianne Laux

Break (from poetry 180)
Dorianne Laux

We put the puzzle together piece
by piece, loving how one curved
notch fits so sweetly with another.
A yellow smudge becomes
the brush of a broom, and two blue arms
fill in the last of the sky.
We patch together porch swings and autumn
trees, matching gold to gold. We hold
the eyes of deer in our palms, a pair
of brown shoes. We do this as the child
circles her room, impatient
with her blossoming, tired
of the neat house, the made bed,
the good food. We let her brood
as we shuffle through the pieces,
setting each one into place with a satisfied
tap, our backs turned for a few hours
to a world that is crumbling, a sky
that is falling, the pieces
we are required to return to.


The world we construct is sensual (“together,” “loving,” “curved notch,” “sweetly”), and that is as far as we can see. Hence, the sun might as well be a broom – our enlightenment only went as far as playing “house” in nursery school – and the sky is the breadth of our arms (contrast with Dickinson’s “I dwell in possibility”).

There’s nothing sinful or awful about this, but inasmuch as we are making without thinking, a comment on life is being put together, and that comment is limited. “Porch swings” and “autumn trees” suggest aging, but is aging truly golden? Something about the formulation is curious: the poem itself moves from the sun to the sky to the trees and then to deer on the ground, most explicitly on the ground. We’re looking at shoes, wondering about doe eyes. Deer move places: we haven’t moved anywhere. That’s the break so many parents don’t remember; one wonders why they didn’t remember it.

The child, of course, is motion constrained (“circles her room”/”impatient with her blossoming”). Weren’t all parents like this at some point? Tired of “the neat house”/”the made bed”/”the good food”? It could be the case there are a lot of people that actually never went through adolescent rebellion in the sense we think of it. Intellectuals tend to write “coming of age” stories: there are a lot of people who don’t know how to describe delinquency except as error purely. If I want to say the speaker is one of those who didn’t go through a rebellious stage, that’s a complicated claim. “Blossoming” is echoed earlier in the poem, the yellow smudge and blue arms could be said to imply a flower. Nowhere has the color “green” explicitly emerged, and that’s the color I’d associate with some normal conception of growth. It’s been yellow, blue, gold, brown. Yellow and blue imply a hidden green; golden trees/porches and brown eyes/shoes imply decay, seeing and the natural world outside the house.

Our speaker’s picture hints at problems. “The made bed” is central to her list of goods, and central to her logic. But nowhere above was “bed” implied in any way, while “neat house” was given ample allusion. “The good food” almost sounds like a plea with the child: this is what we can offer that is appropriate. However deer not only move where they will, but feed themselves.

So our speaker turns her back and indicts herself. “We shuffle”/”We are required” are quite a distance from “we put”/”we patch”/”we hold”/”we do”/”we let.” It is not surprising “hold” is the center of the previous list. It is somewhat surprising “we do” is central in the list of seven, but then again, that’s the opening of the sentence which contains the child. It’s not clear exactly what she turns her back on. It is true that she’s turning her back on the world and sky she created. But it’s also true that people who think life is a puzzle you solve and get a clear picture have turned their back on the world in a more fundamental manner. Is our speaker in a position to grow up herself, or is dealing with necessity only what it is?


  1. I like the image of being childish by escaping away from the world, even trying to recapture the better times of childhood juxtaposed against the actual child in the room being ignored and remembering the not-so-good times of childhood – maybe repeating her past experience and thereby perpetuating its continuation for the child.. and future generations.

  2. @ Alice – yeah, this poem is really wide-open in a good way. I’ve taken the notion that the puzzle is the speaker’s life pretty far, and split the “we” between our (audience’s) identification with the speaker at an appropriate moment.

    One could say the puzzle being worked at is an ideal the speaker knows of, and is entirely separate from her current home life. Would that give a different read of the images before “we do?” I dunno, the poem demands a reread.

  3. How true! We often occupy ourselves with game-puzzles/diversions instead of solving the real “puzzles” that we face. Perhaps the diversions re-fuel us and give us the creative power to solve the bigger puzzles.

  4. I definitely like the part Kay mentioned- some folks don’t look at the world as an existing whole, but rather a puzzle they need to piece together. Of course, some people are impossibly egotistical and think there was no world before they were born and that it would never be right without their piecing together. I don’t think they’re one in the same necessarily.

    I like the straight reading of this poem, the contrasting perspectives- between the kid being bored with order and safety, that to the adults is crumbling pieces and falling skies.

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