On Wild Garlic Ridge
High on the stony ridge, acres
of wild garlic flourish despite
frostbitten early spring weather.
Hiking along the rutted trail,
stuffing our tote bags with garlic,
we’re close enough to rub auras,
yet feel the gap between us fill
with garlic vapors toxic to ghosts
and vampires, keeping us apart.
Back in your single rented room,
we’ll roast the garlic and invite
friends to a feast that will soil
our collective breath for a lifetime.
No more reckless love affairs,
no more advances from strangers—
even muggers will avoid us.
The treeless sun-swept ridge affords
a view of the sea, thirty miles east.
We’ve filled our bags but continue
hiking south toward the summit,
where a ring of standing stones
expresses a primal desire
to mate with cosmic forces.
We’ll shelter there from the wind
and share a lunch of French bread,
goat cheese, and fresh raw garlic.
When we descend we’ll pass other
garlic collectors, and our breath
will envelop and encourage them
to abandon love in the flesh,
if they haven’t already, and taste
each other from the greatest distance
good manners and safety allow.
The Landfill Conference
At the landfill conference I learn
to recycle metal, paper, glass
for profit. Debates on plastics
trigger quarrels that often end
with fist fights in the parking lot.
Organic polymers confuse
dump attendants who prefer
bundled newspaper, broken-
down cardboard boxes, and glass
smashed in giant dumpsters.
Sorting aluminum and steel cans
tests their intellectual ardor
for their job. Polyethylene,
polyvinyl chloride, poly-
their patience and tempt them to strike
innocent family members
after a couple of beers at home.
Lacking organic chemistry,
I can’t follow the discussions
about breaking down polymers
with starch, bacteria, sunlight,
so I leave the room to get some air.
But outside the conference hall
black smoke fills the streets. A fire
in a transformer sickens the view.
Police and fire crews herd people
indoors to escape the foul odor.
Back in the conference hall power
is out, the crowd has dispersed.
I recycle myself to my room
by climbing twelve flights of stairs.
I haven’t learned to distinguish
thermoplastics from thermosetting
polymers, and what about
bioplastics and acrylics?
The black smoke curls at my window
but can’t get in. Dozing off,
I murmur Bakelite, parkesine,
nylon; and with a shift
of mood I dream I’m wearing
my favorite sea-blue Orlon sweater,
indifferent to its synthetic feel
yet braced by its chemical color.
Out for Bluefish
The grassy path to the beach
passes through your property.
Retired from the movies, you bask
in militant boredom, sunning
beside your barn-red antique cape.
Toll to pass with casting rod,
bait bucket and cooler: one kiss
authentic as the big-screen kiss
you shared with that scruffy male
I despise for his mumbly diction.
Your black hair flusters about you
not like a halo or aura
but like the fur ruff you wore
in that film derived from The Gambler.
You played Polina, of course,
and looked elegant and frilly
at the ball, sturdy and competent
in the blowing snow the director
contrived to frame that juicy kiss.
Today the heat’s impossible.
Greenflies sizzle above the marsh.
I’m hoping the offshore wind
will cool their angry appetites
long enough for me to hook
a cruising bluefish. So we kiss
and something gives way and I fall
through time and space and crash-land
in a shade-dimmed room with you,
pictures creaking on the walls and sweat
boiling over us both. Some kiss.
You laugh because it’s always like this,
the bluefish running and the sharks
grinning and the shadows in your yard
mocking the postures of lovers
who will never completely grow up,
the reek of my bait bucket rising
like a lovesick or obscene prayer,
my casting rod propped in a corner,
and your face rising above me
at some unattainable height.
Railroads run everywhere again.
Their tracks have re-laid themselves
from here directly to Cambridge
where you’ll present a paper
on the antiseptic effects
of certain mollusk enzymes.
We board the train looking owlish
behind our glasses. Briefcase, tote bag—
a couple of dowdy commuters.
Yet once aboard we discover
that the notion of the train
induces passions we’d presumed
we’d abandoned until our next lives.
We sneak to the empty baggage car,
but discover behind a pile
of mail sacks the empty carcass
of the presidential nominee
we’d both decided to support.
From the look on his face we assume
he died of the same mechanical
passion that almost inspired us.
With its usual jaunty confidence
the world will blame us and suggest
we lured him to this terminus.
The diesel locomotive hoots,
mocking the landscape it parses.
We’re approaching Alewife Station,
the racket of track underfoot
like the chatter of TV news.
We heap mail sacks over the corpse
and detrain with a shrug and rush
to Emerson Hall where a mob
of biologists greets you
with cheers and jeers. You look
elegant as a caryatid
but I know you’re shivering with dread,
hoping that public corpse we found
will remain decently dead at least
until it gets duly elected.
William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Worcester Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge. He won the 2010 Aesthetica poetry award.