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.
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).