Six Poems by William Doreski
After your cremation the sky
lights like a kerosene lantern.
By that glare, Rick and I loot
your desk, finding scissors and paste,
tweezers, eye drops, toothbrush, pens
with ink in six colors. At last
the mother lode: a drawer full
of cream letterhead stationery
embossed with logo and address
of the company you founded
and ran in secret. Treeline,
you called it. Rick and I divide
the stationery, planning to run
the business in your absence
although we don’t know what products
or services you sold, or to whom.
The air tastes sooty and greasy.
A strong wind billow from the south.
Rick’s uneasy. He wants to box
everything in this dusty office
and sell it by the pound for scrap.
I turn and look into your eyes.
In your long black velvet coat
you seem as sturdy as a prism
of basalt. I hadn’t understood
that allowing your ashes to rise
up the chimney into the ether
would allow you to reconstitute.
As you smile your little viper smile
your shadow so intensifies
that Rick and I fall through the floor
and crash-land ten feet below.
When we peer through the hole you made
you’re laughing down from a height
much greater than we’d expect,
and you occlude the light the sky
had generated in your honor.
When I joke about your obsession
with mushrooms and orchids you gaze
with inhuman flicker candid
as a reptile’s. The Sunday light
refracted by your smile hurts
the churchgoing crowd you despise,
and like me they regard you
from the corners of their eyes as if
afraid some curse will apply.
Some claim you sleep under toadstools.
Some even whisper that the pink
of the lady slipper tempts you
to a devilish sort of excess.
Yet you’re harmless as the flora
you admire, excepting the toxic
amanita, the flesh of which
is tough and white as your thighs.
Why are we sighing over books
when a short walk away the sea
exhales a thousand shades of gray?
The cottage can’t hold us all.
One bedroom looks so haunted
with four-poster bed and quilt
indented by invisible corpse
that no one wants to enter it.
And the kitchen fumes with propane,
causing headaches, and the parlor
offers a shelf of best-sellers
from the Fifties, plus board games
missing half the playing pieces.
So why slouch around indoors
quoting Derrida at each other
when we could bend ourselves to the wind
and walk as far as the lighthouse,
scouring the tide-line for shells?
Tom, Jared, Kate, Nancy, George–
come on, someone walk with me.
Despite the resetting of clocks
to Standard Time and the wind-shift
to the east the air’s bright enough
to open your pores and fill you
with legends of shipwreck and drowning.
We all could use the exercise.
Remember that Derrida’s theories
killed him because he sat too long
over his brazen French grammar.
So let’s step out and brave the world–
and if the cloudy light should strike
the sea at just the right angle
we’ll see around the curve of the world
to France, where Derrida’s buried
in the rubble of Marx and Kant.
Seed worms have become scarcer.
This autumn I’ve dug up so few
I fear the war can’t continue.
The seed worms are the males. Often
people expect the females
to carry the eggs, but because
they’re so highly explosive
the males tote them underground,
so deep that if they explode
by accident the earth whispers
rather than erupts. The worms
are parasitic. They penetrate
without pain, reside in the heart
where they sample the blood flow
and alter behavior. The crimes
they prevent by inducing stupor
go unrecorded. Only when war
breaks out do the worms perform
public service. The eggs become
the subtlest form of hand grenade.
Sprinkling them on the enemy
produces shocking results.
We no longer use artillery
or train recruits to fire rifles
but pepper worm eggs from above,
from helicopters. But the lack
of seed worms this season compels
hiatus to our favorite war.
Today we have to hunker down
at the polls and elect a new
and younger commander-in-chief.
A worm’s already in his heart,
already in all our hearts.
The blood-thirst of the worm becomes
our own hunger, and we live
and die by it. The dry weather
rustles like money, and the bones
of our exploded enemies
lie gloating wherever they fell.
First we unseal his mausoleum
and toss him in the back of a truck.
Packed in ice, he arrives in New York
safely. In a lab in New Hampshire
we apply electrodes and spark
his pickled heart. Lifting his dome,
we massage his brain. Spiders
have nested here but scamper away
in the blue fluorescent glare.
Lenin opens his eyes. They’re glass
but see us anyway, his spirit
returning in a long gray tide.
He coughs up a clot of Russian
and thanks us in brittle English.
Having conquered death he’s ready
to run for U.S. President.
Reborn here, he’s a citizen
and eligible. His huge forehead
intimidates all conservatives.
His love of violence impresses
liberals, transvestites, religious
of every persuasion. Stalking
on rigid and upright dogma
across the nation, he advocates
bulldozing all those institutions
that coddle inept intellects
and let women dress like men.
He advises selling our parks
and forests to private enterprise
and shooting bankers and realtors
in front of their cringing families.
On Election Day he pockets
a mandate to run the nation
as he pleases. But his structure
quickly decays. We can’t prevent
liquefaction although we pack
his pores with canning wax. He sighs
and implodes. We package the mess
in a freezer bag and declare
a week of national mourning.
The Smithsonian will preserve
his remains until a new era
requires a strong man and attempts
a fresh reanimation, perhaps
by pouring him into a mold.
We’re glad we tried, his expression
rumpled as ancient papyrus
and his glass gaze big as the sea’s.
Naked on the Common
Convicted of infamous libel
I’m forced to stand naked, shivering
on the Common where the east wind
fumbles in leafless English elms
and commuters clutch leather cases
as they elbow to the subway.
The cold seems more impossible
than the libel I published to prove
you conspired against the dignity
if not the life of the senator
who fathered your favorite child.
The poor creature sported antlers,
complicating birth, but surgery
resolved his headgear. The senator
paid the hospital bill and tipped
the surgeon with a new Mercedes.
The article I published claimed
that sex with the senator triggered
a fatal earthquake in China
and helped melt the Greenland icecap.
The senator couldn’t sue me,
his public persona too grim
to place before a jury. But you
with your weepy blonde cunning
demanded a criminal case,
regardless of established law.
A panel of judges sentenced me
to spend twenty-four hours naked
in the stocks. Dusk falls. No one
notices how blue I’ve become,
how eerie the early snowfall
looks in the blurring lamplight.
At last you stalk past grinning
like a brush fire. You testified
in court that I, not the senator,
fathered that pitiful child.
But no one did. You reproduced
finding no male ripe enough
to please you, and none brave enough
to get so close to the grimace
with which you wither the world.