A Postcard from the Ether
The first shy dusting of snow
looks too naked to threaten us
with its pale, indefinite motives.
It can’t elide our visions
of banana trees flourishing
many-fingered hands of fruit
in suburbs littered with wrecks
of nineteen-Fifties Chevys and Fords.
It can’t erase our dreams of melons
bowling down sky avenues
broader than aircraft carriers.
It can’t persuade us that songs
about summer moonlight swelling
the hearts of dancing couples
can’t snuff the laugh of the dead
still standing where we left them.
The eagle we saw yesterday
cruised over the river,
scanned for fish and fended off
the racket and teasing of crows,
reminded us how negative light
falls in sheaves despite the grace
and curvature of one’s narrative.
The snow changes nothing although
it pretends to. It’s a postcard
from the ether, illegible scrawl
of blackmail and threat, nothing
worth reporting to the cosmos,
since already diluted by
that obesity’s massive humor.
A Violet Haze
Another dream of war lost
or won before I was born.
Airplanes strafing civilians,
bombs toppling ugly churches,
bank tellers rescuing cash
from the latest local firestorm.
I’ve awakened into a new year
that already owes everything
to the old: a debt too large
for the frozen silence to pay.
When you speak, a violet haze
ripples across the landscape
as if evolution continues
without regard for the past.
When you rattle dishes to feed
the cats, stones deep in the earth
commemorate glacial origins.
I try to explain my war dream,
but remember being accused
of killing seventeen hundred
civilians in woolen topcoats.
Police wanted to question me,
but were distracted by a woman
with a blonde pigtail who claimed
my absent body for a prop
in a play she hadn’t written.
You believed you knew this woman,
understood her motives, shared
her professional approach to life.
But she’s only a shadow lit
by neurons sparking in the dark
congealed in the back of my skull.
We agree that the new year takes
after the old. The snow looks tough
as ceramic, and the deer stripping
our favorite shrubs look grateful
that it’s too cold for carnivores
like us to expose ourselves
to them or to each other.
Water Getting Naked
When I meet you at the falls
you’re candid as a starling
and almost as decorative.
The crackle of ice thinking
about more ice claims our attention.
The hiss of water getting naked
struggles to form an idea
to compete with the notion of freeze.
We’re here to conspire against
the oblique angles that frame
losses we’ve separately endured.
We’re here to look each other
frankly in the intellect and judge
whether our parts could adhere
in a gentler, kinder season.
The waterfall never stops falling,
never tires of its elegance,
never regrets its narcissism.
We could learn from its many
fey striations, conquer ourselves
with comparable flexibility,
but we have to approach ourselves
and each other in thicker terms
to avoid falling through the ice
and drowning in the little pool
at the foot of the waterfall.
We’ve dodged such lack of ego
before. Your fresh new candor
should help us deploy ourselves
in crisp new postures we’ll practice
until spring, when their utility
will become public, and the cries
of starlings will gather in treetops
with a vast and singular music
hardly anyone will recognize.
Les Chats Noirs
Tonight I’m a French policeman
who doesn’t speak French. The crimes
that confront me dwarf the universe
at the moment of its birth.
They implicate les chats noirs,
their night marauding, their cries
of singular passion. You ask
if they play saxophone or trumpet,
but you’re thinking of that jazz club
we haunted thirty years ago,
the one called Les Chats Noir,
where musicians burst like grenades.
Those days have withered away
and left the faintest residue
to tease us out of memory.
No, my black cats are a species
apart, their crimes embedded
in their DNA although
it’s also our DNA, a gift
of evolution run amok.
Because I don’t speak French, les chats
refuse to listen or obey
when I admonish them for yowling
into the star-struck early hours
when drunks topple at the curb
and marriage vows forsake themselves.
Night after night I chase after cats.
Their cackling laughter maddens me,
but please don’t pity or comfort me—
the pursuit is its own reward.
Some night when I wake from this task
I’ll still be in uniform,
and maybe then you’ll embrace me
as cat-shadows gust over us
in riffs of dismembered chords.
Days of mutual molestation
have passed, left residue
too bleak and sticky to ignore.
Neither candor of winter trees
nor the crisp of solitude heals
the corrugated silence weeping
into the vacuum bordering
the space we wish to occupy.
You claim I lifted a scab
to endorse a source of infection,
but I’m sure your tender gaze
lofted spectra to kill the ether.
How can we reconcile stone
with glass? How can we solve
the skyscrapers? The city deploys
plows to civilize snowstorms
that otherwise would thicken
the streets in a lack of color
too sad for us to survive.
The molestation always occurs
at dawn or dusk, never at noon
or midnight. Reading Dickinson
sometimes defers it, but
reading Whitman encourages
the spinal fusions that results
from unkempt passions amok.
We pass through that era and smile
at the figures we cut on the ice
of the Frog Pond, everyone grim
with that knowledge only children
can safely absorb. No more
skating on thin ice. The winter
insulates us from each other,
and our clenched spirits cringe
as the wind tickles the secrets
we lack the nerve to expose.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies and several collections of poetry. His work has appeared in many journals. He has taught writing and literature at Emerson, Goddard, Boston University, and Keene State College. His new poetry collection is A Black River, A Dark Fall.
Finest poetry I’ve read in years. Makes me feel very small and very cheered all at once.