09/27/2021

William Doreski

Four Poems

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,
polypropy­lene, polystyrene,
polyvinyl chlo­ride, poly-

tetra­flu­o­roeth­yl­ene test
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.

All Aboard

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.