William Doreski ~ Five Poems

A Struck Moose

A struck moose slumps in the grass.
A cop pre­pares to shoot it.
Thick hairy men are quarreling
over the rack. We pass by
this tableau with a shudder.
Although this acci­dent occurred
while we were eat­ing breakfast
with our con­science in abeyance,
every­one who dri­ves a weapon
gross enough to top­ple a moose
must accept a sliv­er of blame.

We should give up dri­ving and walk
every­where, fac­ing the world
with our rum­pled old faces
scrubbed like cop­per-bot­tom pans.
Remember the she-moose and calf
that stepped from the marsh behind
our house in Fitzwilliam? You’d been
to north­ern Maine and back without
a sight­ing: yet this pair appeared,
impress­ing tracks in the mud that lasted
until the snow fell that November.

As Thoreau learned in the wild,
moose move so qui­et­ly through
the for­est we feel embarrassed
by our noisy human culture
and impose a hush on ourselves.
That huge hurt crea­ture, mountain
of meat and hide and bone, is doomed.
Its pend­ing death rebukes us
with the enor­mi­ty of life
strapped to us like backpacks,
heavy with our com­mon cause.


Old Paper Maps

The store­fronts on Boylston rumple
as the low sun prowls the sky.
We walk from the Common to the Fens

and back again, drag­ging our guilt
like sacks of pota­toes. These days
slog­ging toward win­ter remind us

how shal­low our breath­ing became
when we met in our dusty childhood.
We should have con­cealed each other

in some des­per­ate Asian landscape
where farm­ers scratch at the earth
with­out pen­e­trat­ing the surface.

We should have hid­den the bodies
where we would for­get to find them
even in the final judgment.

Remember when we descended
to Hades and met famous people
we were fool­ish enough to admire?

Remember the ball­game at Fenway
when a Yankees fan died of angst
and we had to step over the corpse?

We should have shucked Boston and moved
to New York where we’d feel taller.
Instead, we crouched in the dark

of our base­ment apart­ment and claimed
every deduc­tion, pay­ing no tax
but fear­ing the knock on the door.

Now we walk the long gray street,
avert­ing our eyes and recalling
the man who placed emp­ty boxes

on the cor­ners where Mass Ave
inter­sects, spook­ing the cop
who direct­ed morn­ing traffic.

Soon our spir­its will terminate
in box­es small­er than those, the crush
of the cos­mos sev­er­ing our parts

and scat­ter­ing our spent days
amid so much annu­al leaf-fall
dis­persed like old paper maps.


Art with a Capital T

Woods at the edge of a marsh.
Someone has placed a bookcase
of var­nished maple, shelves
vacant but expec­tant. Also
a slab of ply­wood on the ground
with a large plas­tic jug, a wire
device of unknown purpose,
and an unused bar of soap.
The jug has a pink stopper,
the ply­wood is filthy with mildew.

Discovering this installation
far from the near­est house
con­firms that art is everywhere.
You order me to pho­to­graph it
before com­ing rain can spoil it.
But this isn’t some­thing the Louvre
would han­ker for. A nar­row board
lies beside it with “Free” spray-painted,
so this is only dis­card­ed junk,
not the clever arrangement
we saw from the cor­ners of our eyes.

Still, I snap a cou­ple of pictures
to hang in the MFA, the Tate,
the Met, or Wadsworth Atheneum
when the cura­tors aren’t looking.
Then all would agree that art
with a cap­i­tal T has arrived
in woods at the edge of a marsh
in Harrisville, New Hampshire—
blos­som­ing in the autumn when
peo­ple add worn-out belongings
to land­scapes too plain to admire
with­out a touch of culture.


Dottie at Seventy-Five

She wasn’t a high-school beauty
but fit a slot that otherwise
would have gone unoccupied.

Now she thrives with vow­els intact.
She knifes into my dream life
and demands I help her shop

in our stain­less local market
for gourds, pump­kins, Indian corn.
Halloween has passed with legends

unfold­ed like par­ty favors.
November reeks of brown rot.
Dottie with her two dimensions

slips through aisles of produce
with her blonde out­look perfected
by sev­en­ty years of scheming.

I avoid­ed her in youth because
punk bik­ers thought her darling.
Their pre­ma­ture tat­toos read

Dottie” on liv­er-col­ored hearts.
She nev­er mar­ried because
those surly male egos deflated

into pover­ty tint­ed shades
of gray that didn’t flat­ter her.
Now she’s a sketch or diagram

of the per­son I knew. My dream
is no longer mine but hers—
the gourds, pump­kins, Indian corn

heaped in the cart to decorate
her cot­tage for the com­ing winter.
I’m to share her space and treasure

her paper-thin body the way
I’d trea­sure a page of Shakespeare.
I’m glad to help her in old age, [stan­za break]

but wor­ry that lack­ing a third
dimen­sion she’ll blow away
in the park­ing lot, leav­ing me

not quite bereft but befuddled
with hand­fuls of clum­sy dream shards
and no safe place to dis­card them.


Sea Rise in the City

When I return to red­brick Boston
after dawdling for years in the ‘burbs,
the Charles basin has broadened
and the Back Bay streets brim over.
Snug in Wellies, I trek up Beacon
to high ground near the state house.
The gild­ed dome looks old and cheap.
The male del­e­gates’ trousers bag
and sag and the women clench
them­selves in dull and unchic wool.

Law can’t halt the advanc­ing sea.
Soon the slop will deepen
and no one will be wad­ing to work.
Small boats will suf­fice for a while,
but storms will crash through windows
and ren­der even the skyscrapers
crude and obso­lete as Stonehenge.
Why have I returned to the scene
of my favorite unsolved crimes?

The top floor win­dows where
my mar­riage choked itself to death
still wink with after­noon sun.
The base­ment flat where someone
unbut­toned her­self to crush me
has drowned in illim­itable salt.
The cor­ner where I speared a thug
with an umbrel­la still grieves,
although the store­fronts are blank.

But from the height where Shaw’s
gray bas-relief still functions,
Boston looks almost sane enough
to revive me from the stupor
of forty years. The drowned trees
of the Public Garden still stand,
but the ghost I dread most swims
dol­phin-style in the shallows,
as if no grave heart­break looms.


William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at sev­er­al col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. His most recent book of poet­ry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021). He has pub­lished three crit­i­cal stud­ies, includ­ing Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poet­ry, fic­tion, and reviews have appeared in var­i­ous journals.