William Doreski, A Pretty Piece of Paganism

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in a small house in the woods. He taught at Keene State College for many years, but has now retired to feed the deer and wild turkeys. He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors.  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals and several small-press books. His forthcoming book of poetry is The Last Concert (Salmon Press).


At night the underground plies
its gritty metaphysics
to tease us into compliance
the way hospitals tease patients
with the chat and clatter of nurses
snacking on pizza and soft drinks.

We’re neither patients nor patient.
The gnash of moles and woodchucks
maddens with crimson drapery.
The peepers try to overwrite
the profound regrets of trees
that rooted in the wrong climate.

Meanwhile in the depths of city
strangers retort by having sex
with famous antique furniture.
While they’re grunting their souls out
the red-enameled subway trains
clatter with no one aboard

except the ghosts of who we were
forty years ago, our sloppy clothes
rebuking the young professionals
en route to dusted office space
with blond Danish furniture
too staid to offer them sex.

Do you regret the angles of light
parsed by busy intersections
but illuminating parts of us
we hadn’t previously achieved?
Do you miss the underground noise
of our culture run amok?

The mole and woodchucks plot
and the mice and chipmunks listen
and learn from their elders
while we in our polished wisdom
barely skim enough of sleep
to weather us into the future.

A Pretty Piece of Paganism

The rooster can’t stop crowing.
Dawn ripens like a kiwi fruit.
You want to wring the first drop
of light from the withered sky,
but you should let it bloom more fully
before you commit its soul
to the daily lack of progress.

Today the House votes to repeal
the well-being of the poor.
Then it votes to incarnate
Pierpont Morgan as the emperor
of every flavor of summer.
You should be glad the rooster
woke you before nuclear war
and the advent of state religion.

You should thank me for prying
the doors open to admit the wind
on which the last Greek moments
ride as if on parade. Orpheus
sings like the rooster. Ares
wields a distant spear of lightning.
Eros restrings his bow and hones
his arrow-tips so fine no one
will feel how deeply they bleed.

You heard all this rubbish in school
where fellow students dozed while
you believed and believed in books.
This is how they repay you:
poverty in old age, teeth rattling
loose in your skull, eyesight
flickering as the airwaves creak
and surf over each other, sizzling.

A red-breasted grosbeak sneaks
a seed from the feeder. Chipmunks
sleek across the yard. You laugh
at the notion of Orpheus
as cackling and demented rooster;
but note that during the long night
my head detached and rolled away
singing offkey in rainbow colors
you might also find amusing.

The Secrets of the Moon

The rain smells like the back porch
of our third-floor apartment
in the city of bankrupt joy.
Remember the racoons flensing
the garbage cans every night?
Remember the cries of neighbors
having sex with their tropical fish?
The rain whirls in the pine-tops
like Ginger Rogers in her prime.
The rain coughs through the gutters
with the discretion of diplomats
and the arrogance of old wool socks.
You hated that brown apartment.
You packed a dozen bags and left
in a huff of broken plaster
and rented a boat-shaped room
overlooking the intersection
where someone tried to assassinate
the visiting Queen of Sweden.
You wished you had witnessed
the heroism of that moment
when the man you hoped to love
flung himself before the bullet,
which in fact missed everyone
and flattened against a brick.
Though that happened before your birth
you imagined cuddling that hero
in your boat-shaped room while the press
pressed at the door for interviews.
Now the rain smells unheroic—
a murk of peeling green paint
and racoon urine. The secrets
of the moon are safe for the moment,
and the exhilaration of pines
distracts you from the runoff—
which in sour little doses,
if you were humble enough to kneel
and drink, would purge your lust
for horizons too private and rosy
for the rest of us to enjoy.

Body Men

At the body shop a mist of paint engrains the air and coats our lungs with luxury colors. We could live here in a fossil state too thick for the world to penetrate. By engorging on rusted sheet metal, we could toughen ourselves tougher than legal documents. Wrecked cars slump in the yard. Their sculptural demise ennobles them. The deaths they’ve enclosed anoint them with an aura of vengeance. The two body men are deep in their seventies. Warping metal to flatter the aerodynamics of the contemporary mind has kept them young and nimble. They vault over the roofs and hoods of cars without scraping the paint. They caress fenders and doors to smooth them into submission. We watch with envy boiling over. If only we possessed such a sense of touch. If only our colors meshed the way their touch-ups do. What would it cost to enhance ourselves with factory-approved replacement organs? What would it cost to streamline ourselves to speed through the rest of our days screaming with flame and blue exhaust? Dents and dings, scrapes and crumples. The body men look turgid as old-fashioned novelists, but they approach their work with style too daring for Vogue and a tenderness that’s nothing but mercy. If we lie at their feet they might stoop to embrace us, and then all four of us would join a choir that would ascend, singing, into some trademarked shade of blue.

Bell’s Theorem

Football on the radio, Harvard at Princeton. So much expensive brain muck smeared on the field. I root for this side or that. I cheer and spill tea in my lap. Maybe if I could see the linemen clashing, concussing those privileged cells, I’d pity their deeply upholstered parents for begetting such oafs, but I appreciate hearing about their meat-eating energy. Such tender lives, cupped in the hands of benevolent gods no one beyond the Ivy League worships. Princeton has pinned Harvard against its own goal line on the opening drive. Looking deep, throwing short. Interception. The moon intercepts the sun. The resulting eclipse, although concealed by rain clouds, sickens the crowd. Or elates it. Princeton at the Harvard forty-six. How clever—I can see through the radio, see the crowd murmur in damp gray tones. Sparks clatter as I slip through the circuits. I could stretch a little and touch the ball, but I don’t want to interfere. The rain sizzles in the solid-state universe that quantum mechanics postulated but left unproven. What of Bell’s Theorem? Every player on the field understands it better than I do. That’s why I perceive their helmets not as objects but particles, photons linked by mutual sympathy and riding indeterminate waves down to the Princeton eight. No wonder that when I shook Niels Bohr’s hand in the last year of his life he squeezed so hard I cried aloud, while somewhere in a parallel universe another hand responded with ironic applause. Meanwhile Harvard has scored. Eighty yard drive. The radio shivers with excitement. The rain above Princeton Stadium quickens into a stew of basic algebra simple enough to convince me that the massed particles we call football teams move both randomly and with purpose, although Bell’s theorem rejects local hidden variables and denies athletes superluminal speed.

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