Thomas Lux was a major US poet. His work was subtle, deeply accessible, and resonant. I was lucky to see and hear him read as an undergraduate at Carthage College in the late 90s.
His passing away at age 70 last Sunday was a blow to the literary community. I was fortunate last year to get an ARC of his last collection, To the Left of Time. A review of this collection over at The Rumpus did a good job of capturing what a “Luxian poem” is “small and yet fantastic, and, in its peculiar way, loving. Lux is what you might call a quirky romantic. He likes to talk about beauty and love and souls and spirits and other romantic ideals, at the same time tethering them to the everyday.“
only when he was nervous
about fixing something, anything.
It was an aptitude he lacked.
He worked as a weaver
in a silk mill, then as a chauffeur,
and then he fell
into his life’s work, at which he excelled:
he drove a truck filled
with clinking milk bottles,
and deposited them on doorsteps,
front and back, and some even in the fridge.
I called it whistling, but there was little or no
sound: he’d make the whistle-lips
and blow a song of air, of breath,
hitting the muffled higher notes
when the nut did not fit the bolt,
when a belt needed an extra hole…
He put the snow chains on himself.
He’d usually get it done.
He never asked for help,
and was given none.
However, I think my favorite poetry collection of his was The Street of Clocks. There is a kind of metaphysical lyricism in Lux’s poetry that appeals to me.
Whatever is too stupid to say
can be sung.
— Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
The human voice can sing a vowel to break your heart.
It trills a string of banal words,
but your blood jumps, regardless. You don’t care
about the words but only how they’re sung
and the music behind — the brass, the drums.
Oh the primal, necessary drums
behind the words so dumb!
That power, the bang and the boom and again the bang
we cannot, need not, live without,
nor without other means to make sweet noise,
the guitar or violin, the things that sing
the plaintive, joyful sounds.
Which is why I like songs best
when I can’t hear the words, or, better still,
when there are no words at all.
More of his poems can be found here.