Poetry from William Doreski

Running in Place

 

Running in place on the treadmill

in my basement I note a mouse

creeping up the concrete wall.

 

Black, short-tailed, thick as my fist,

it clings to the vertical

like a gravestone lichen. I stare

 

at this mobile punctuation

until I’m running the bases

in a sandlot game. I run so hard

 

I knock down the first baseman,

second baseman, shortstop, third

baseman and catcher, yet scoop up

 

the bases themselves and tuck them

in a muscular compact bundle

like a football under my arm.

 

The mouse applauds with tiny paws

without losing its grip on the wall.

The basement groans and splits open

 

to admit the sunlight and bathe me

in post-Easter glory. The ballpark

crowd roars and wriggles in its seats.

 

The treadmill whines as I reach

unnatural speed. Belt and pulleys

strain to accommodate such force.

 

Metal snaps and I tumble

into the dust between home plate

and first base, and the catcher

 

tags me out, out, out. Yet still

I’m clutching the bases, including

home plate, so I’ve won anyway,

 

won without a team to back me.

The mouse has reached the top of the wall.

It disappears into a crevice.

 

The ballpark crowd has departed

in disappointment, the home team

defeated and the April light

 

bruised deep blue. I run awhile

longer, but tire so easily

I know all this effort’s in vain.

 

Drugstore Logic Applied

 

As I drive in the rainy dark

to the drugstore, the houses

of my neighbors flash as TV

charms them in shifting colors.

 

Impoverished by fading eyesight,

cooped behind troubled glasses,

I feel rather than see the road

tuck under itself in the thaw.

 

Snowbanks tall as defensive guards

still flaunt. But they’re knuckling slowly,

crystal by crystal, failing to hold

their form against the keening of rain

 

and the flop of calendar pages.

I arrive in a huff. The lights

of the chain store fortify products

in which I otherwise have no faith.

 

As I purchase overpriced drugs

a crowd of pubescents buying

candy and chips hogs the checkout.

Back on the road, lurching through rain,

 

I wonder if the hidden landforms

survive the torpor of the dark,

or if they fold themselves away

for times when I really need them.

 

 

 

First Outing of a Troubled Year

 

 

Eating recycled plastic

at your picnic makes me feel

manlier than the men who munch

organic produce and smile.

 

The day pouts and blusters.

The lake cringes as the ice cracks

to reveal the first open water

we’ve seen in five months. You pour

 

wine into my two cupped hands.

I gargle it down and sneer

at men whose dainty fingers,

manicured by smirking experts,

 

fondle stemware without risk.

Their wine, made from ordinary grapes,

leaves their senses tingling,

while the swill you’ve served inflames

 

passions that follow the bell curves

of earthquakes. No more, please. The light

in the treetops shivers with fear.

Soon the lake will sprout bass boats

 

puttering close to shore. Later,

speedboats dragging skiers will comb

the water, scoring fatal wakes.

The cottages will flower. Music

 

will hush the birdsong, and kids

will taunt each other to drown.

We’ll avoid the lake all summer

and return in the fall when silence

 

drapes the heaving trees. Your picnic

has saddened me. Maybe it’s the wine,

or maybe chewing the plastic

has loosened all my fillings; [stnza break]

 

 

but the passion that could have shaken

the world has faded, leaving a dead

fish stink and crackle of ice

that render me too manly to bear.

 

Amnesiac Again

 

Abandoned rather than lost,

memory has abstracted itself

like a pasture buried in snow.

 

This bedroom with a cairn of clothes

on the floor, an expensive watch

glowering with diamonds and dials

 

on the nightstand, a woman snoring

in a heap of cats, puzzles me

with its lack of useful clues.

 

I stuff myself inside the clothes

and creep down a long green hallway

to a stainless steel kitchen

 

only the rich could afford.

Copper-bottomed pots dangle

as if condemned. A gas range

 

big enough to roast a hippo

smolders in grim self-confidence.

A woman in uniform asks me

 

what I want for breakfast. A name,

a place, a green thought to take

outdoors to think in green shade.

 

The woman breaks eggs in a pan

and sets it hissing on the range.

Something in me broke like those eggs

 

sometime last night as stars aligned

in obsolete configurations

I’ve never learned to identify.

 

How clear the boundary between

knowing my name, knowing my place,

and erasure of all but outlines.

 

I stand in the snowy pasture

and moo and bleat and grumble

while the cook flips the eggs because [stanza break]

 

she already knows I like them

easy over. This gothic moment

prolongs to enable me

 

to avoid the reverberation

that would shiver this house to its soul

if I thundered too abruptly.

 

 

Canoeing Up the Penobscot

 

Canoeing up the Penobscot

with a lanky mob of Indians,

I split the current stroke by stroke,

straining every sorry muscle.

The Indians do no better.

Their faces warp as they wrestle

 

the snowmelt pouring downstream

from the complex of lakes to the north.

I have no money to pay them,

but they feared I’d drown myself

if I ascended the stream alone.

The cloud-casual afternoon hisses

 

with effort. Spring rain promises,

but withholds until we’re ready

to camp on a cringing stretch of shore.

A highway nearby snores with trucks.

A railroad trills with steel on steel.

Why didn’t I ship my canoe

 

to the lakes and ride the friction

back to Old Town in studied ease?

The Indians don’t ask. We chatter

and share a dinner of boiling fat.

They like being Indians. I like

being with Indians while the dark

 

smolders with self-contained rage.

As we lie in our tents the rain

sizzles through the eloquent trees

and defines everything it touches.

At dawn we breakfast on more fat

and mount our canoes. The current

 

retorts, and midstream I lose myself.

The Indians wave and chuckle

as my canoe reverses and speeds me

downhill with my paddle flailing.

Down, down, past Chester, Lincoln,

Howland, Olamon, Old Town, Bradley, [stanza break]

 

 

Orono, Veazie, Bangor,

and then Winterport and Bucksport

and with a heave and sigh into

the bay, Islesboro dead ahead.

I beach my canoe, flop on the sand,

and marvel that I’ve traveled

 

almost seventy miles this morning.

The Indians must be laughing

as the bay and bare sky are laughing—

the spruce rim of the island

dour as the skirts of ruffed grouse

settling at last on their nests.

Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently The Suburbs of Atlantis (AA Press, 2013). 

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