New clothes and a summer tan
fail to impress you. I try,
but the whirlpools of your eyes
draw people like me below
the surface, where we flail
with fear of drowning aloud.
So many cries for help, so few
efforts to rescue us. You laugh
away my terror, and critique
my latest outfit: duck-green
trousers with a nerd-blue shirt.
At least my shoes escape notice.
Wagging dogs walking past
observe me with curious snouts
as they scout for delicate odors.
Their owners look away although
their clothes are as casual as mine.
Maybe my sunburn violates
the ethnic and racial concepts
we learned to label in school.
You don’t care how tawny or brazen
my clothes, skin, or expression.
You like to hear me struggling
in perfectly breathable air.
Lately your political stance
has toughened with layers of asphalt.
I would never challenge a word
of your one-person party line;
but going under for the third
and final time I invoke
your candidate, whose graze
almost exceeds yours in depth,
his big ripe hands all over you,
his leer a slash of crimson.
When the rest of us finish
drowning aloud you’ll savor
the utter silence that follows,
your future nailed to a tree
where any survivor can read it.
Armed and Ready
My dead aunt’s gun collection
leers through a layer of dust.
Sixteen nephews and nieces
and only one murderer, convicted.
We don’t hunt or shoot for fun,
don’t like the aggressive tense
assumed by concealed carry.
Aunt Jeanne shot rats for fun
and profit, her greenhouses
threatened by various critters
that crept in the low-slung dark
and gobbled seedlings like candy.
I don’t blame her for defending
her turf, but she loved her guns
as if family, the children
she never could bear to bear.
She left house and land to the lone
redhead among us. The rest
scrabble like rats for a foothold
in her modest little fortune.
Weeds have overtaken her farm,
flustered her greenhouse, toppled
the barn damaged by hurricane
more than eighty years ago.
The house reeks of the cancer
that ate her alive. Family photos
mock the family. Racked behind glass,
the guns look more earnest than us.
Plotting us on a graph, I pinpoint
exultations and depressions,
tracing lifelines that parallel
or cross. You also like graphs,
but complain I’m wasting my time
by charting predestined decline.
The autumn light at the window
feels bold and fleshy, thicken enough
to support the flimsiest dream life.
Maple, birch, and hickory shed
while oak and beech withhold
their leaves, waiting to be sure
that the seasons mean what they say.
We could drive to the city
and park in an erogenous zone.
We could trip through museums
and with our well-informed gaze
peel the art from the walls and steal
its essence. We’re old enough
to get away without leaving clues,
the paintings apparently hanging
aloof in their usual places.
But you’d rather stay home and pet
the ghosts of our many dead cats,
ruffling their pelts and confiding
your sins to their strict morality.
I also miss them, their purrs and feints,
their steep angles of perception.
Something feline in the art
we most admire, something edged
and ruthless. Look into the red
of the burning bush in the back yard
and note its otherness, alien
and banished from the nurseries.
Outlaw art, like Gauguin or Rimbaud,
harsh on eye and ear but gentle
at night when the body shuts down
and our lifelines overlap and sigh,
plotting the ultimate curve.
© William Doreski 2020
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He recently retired after many years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.