The Long Surprise


978-1-881515-35-7 Paperback
5.5 x 8.5 x 0 in
80 pp.
Pub Date: 08/29/2001


  • Paperback $12.00
Winner of the 2000 X. J. Kennedy Poetry Prize
Contest Judge X. J. Kennedy heralds Barbara Lau's The Long Surprise as "full of unexpectedness . . . feeling and verve" and "a confident step onto the main stage of American poetry."

Adds Eleanor Wilner, "Here is a poet of candor, vigor and daylight vision, who loves without illusion. . . whose ear is unerring, and whose startlingly fresh images push up like 'wild mint . . . through sidewalks.'"

Posing questions about the making of art ("Is chaos / counterpoint to art, or instead, / its tuning fork?"), marriage ("How little is enough?"), faith, family, and selfhood ("Where does she begin / and I end?"), Lau explores "how life announces itself" at our uneasy turn of the century.

Her poems witness both the horrific the loss of a child, the greed of the impoverished, the motives behind child prostitution and common pleasures "so dense they sedate you."

Women at the Bath
Degas got it right, sketching nudes
with their backs turned, faces down, absorbed
in the tub's hot tonic. One thousand years of arranged
hips and breasts have not framed such disinterest
as this. They do not gaze at you
with Olympia's mild contempt nor Bacchante's
longing: one leans forward, toweling dry her hair,
one stoops to dampen her sponge, one methodically
scrubs her raised right hip. You cannot tell if they are
pretty, or spent, and the blurred patina of their flesh
gives you no perch to stand on.
Shifting foot to foot, you feel like a nuisance,
a pubescent peeping Tom who might as well slip
down the drain with the dead skin.
Women and water-small surprise,
this broth of insurrection I brew,
the baby fussing in her crib, the husband
half an hour away. I sink slowly,
lids closed, limbs lax. The head grows cumbrous
as a newbom's. The mind loses its compass.
And like a sun-drunk turtle, I begin to float.


Published by Texas Review Press