A poem doesn’t need to make you feel good, but it does need to make you feel something. Dorianne Laux’s “Who Needs Us?” isn’t exactly a sunbeam of positivity, but rather an indicting read whose sting is dampened by the poem’s sonic qualities. The alliteration, assonance, and internal rhymes of the poem lure you in so well it’s easy to miss the content and the ideas behind it. The title is a question worded in such a way that the answer–no one–is implied. However important or necessary we think we are with our “magnified magnificence,” we’re really just infinitesimal slithers in the sublimely infinite and ever-expanding world. “Do I dare disturb the universe?” asks T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock. As if the universe would even notice the question.
Who Needs Us?
The quiet, the bitter, the bereaved,
the going forth of us, the coming home,
the drag and pull of us, the tome and teem
and tensile greed of us, the opening
and closing of us, our eyes, in sleep,
our crematorium dreams?
The brush of us one against another,
the crumple on the couch of us,
the spring in our step, the sequestered dance
in front of the cracked mirrors of us,
our savage suffering, our wobbly ladders
of despair, the drenched seaweed-green
of our tipped wineglass hearts, our wheels
and guitars, white spider bites blooming
on our many-colored skins, the din
of our nerves, our pearl onion toes
and orangey fingers, our effigies
and empty bellies, our plazas
of ache and despair, our dusky faces
round as dinner plates, our bald pates,
our doubt, our clout, our bold mistakes?
Who needs the footprints of us,
the glimpse of us in a corridor of stars,
who sees the globes of our breath
before us in winter, the angels
we make in the stiff snow,
the hack and ice of us, the glide
and gleam and busted puzzle of us,
the myth and math of us,
the blue bruise and excuse of us,
who will know the magnified
magnificence of us, could there be
too many of us, the clutch and strum
and feral singing of us, the hush of us,
who will hear the whisker of silence
we will leave in our wake?
– from The Book of Men by Dorianne Laux, published by W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.