The newest skyscraper offends with its defiant geometry inscribed in brutal planes and striations. The graveyard looks up and pleads. The last tourist drops on all fours and scrabbles in the dirt. He’s eating clods, spitting out the grass and swallowing the earth. It doesn’t matter who planted this garden of graves, or why the dead lie head to feet, feet to head. Only the glistening skin of the skyscraper can repel the relevant ghosts. Only its acute and unlikely angles can situate the suffering tourist in time and space. But he refuses to look up and enjoy the spectacle of a sneer of glass slicing the pure hard rind of the moon. Such gelatinous events occur almost every night, now that the President has re-elected. Maybe when the criminal charges toughen into bedrock, when the petroglyphs become more legible, everyone will learn to more convincingly blame everyone else. The graveyard sighs a modest but apocalyptic sigh as it ingests the tourist. When he awakens at home in the next century his hands will smell of dead heroes, and his feet will have petrified to agate. Someone will say, I told you so; but the skyscraper with its awkward stance will dominate still, its windows oozing spectrums the human eye can’t process or even detect.
The Current State of Matter
Expensive watches grimace
in a shop window so pricey
a security guard drools on it.
Fresh from the dimmest fusions,
I drift past with open pores.
Every neuron feels alit.
Every sentence seems too short
to describe the caffeine moment
when books I’ve read all my life
kick in with unearthly roar.
Sleek and seamless adolescents
sporting smartphones like rhinestones
chatter past in clots of flesh
a carnivore would tooth to rags.
Nothing edible for someone
of my persuasion, however.
Nothing but a stutter of goods—
expensive sunglasses, flimsy shoes,
jewelry pimpled with evening gloss.
I’ve walked so far my shoes fit
more firmly than ever, my hands
have swollen with tired blood.
Too many troubles converge
in this corridor of storefronts,
skyscrapers lilting overhead.
How much shine can I withstand
before my bones soup themselves
in whimpers of yellowish birth?
Those born digital recall
nothing of the egg. Their lives
elongate before them like shadows
thrust from the heart of the moon.
The books I’ve read all my life (Stanza Break)
need not apply. Competing
shadows of tall buildings duel
in the fiery dark, and sales clerks
hover over powerful goods
no one has the moral power
to either purchase or refuse.
This Possum Hour
You say you’re nocturnal like
a possum. Remember that Pound
called Eliot Possum, meaning
the creature that plays dead
rather than express emotion.
At two AM the avenue
plays dead. The sidewalks curl
like lips. The tame trees planted
to shade dog walkers and pimps
defy lamplight with gloomy leers.
I should to describe you sitting up
in bed reading the bible
with the faintest hissing sound
like sand singing in an ebb tide.
Downstairs chuckling over puns
while you become too serious
to tease to life with sex, I picture
the mall leafless, cushioned with snow,
but the June night embraces me
with an argument I won’t refute.
Maybe when the shops creak open
and the famous hairdresser arrives
with his little moustache tingling,
maybe when the sailboats cream
the basin in the first big hour
of daylight the summer will seem
summer enough to enhance us.
But at this possum hour the cries
of dreaming dogs remind me
that so much has gone up in smoke
or fog or mist or unraveled ghost
that the trees have no cause to sneer,
and the bible you’re reading
may or may not falsify
the reckless history of our souls.
Your Favorite Tree Looming
At dusk in the public gardens
small, medium, and large dogs
off-leash speed across the lawns,
ears flapping. Propped on a bench
with your favorite tree looming
we merge into a single mass.
Einstein predicted warps in space
and time as energy flows
around large gravitational fields.
What about smaller entities
like a pair of seventy-year-olds
crushed together by the pink
of a fading sky? The glamor
of this hustling city passes
at a distance, a creature flowing
in a skein of yellow silk,
its assorted bling clinking.
A footfall shaped like a series
of grotesque errors tracks us
to our bench, smiles upon us,
and clomps off, dragging one foot.
Surely nothing in the bible
explains the parsing of souls
through digital processing.
Yet faces lit by smartphones
look ennobled, if sculpted in lard,
their spiritual excess burned off.
How long do we have to recline
with our senses bubbling before
the light fails so completely
that whatever wants to devour us
can approach without a whisper?
We refuse to move. The last cloud
sheds its colors. Your tree thickens
to warp us into a shadow
so deep we’ll have to escape it
like clambering out of a well
with the entire world watching
to see how naked we’ve become.
The Street of Many Spices
On the Street of Many Spices
only one toilet functions.
All night I hear it crying
down the sewers, plaintive notes
crumpling in the slush. The dead
of this long street congregate
at every corner. Tatters
of cigarette paper stick
to their lips. Their lack of breath
reeks of the rooms they occupied
before coughing up what passes
in most religions for a soul.
The local religion, however,
describes that emanation
not as soul but toxic gas,
and warns that inhaling it condemns
the victim to uncertainties
like lost wallets, passports, and keys.
I stay in my room after dark
and drink the local vino
and watch the one TV station
with sitcoms in several languages,
none of which anyone around here
speaks or understands. The creak
of giant footfall prowls the street.
I keep the curtains drawn and hope
the glow of TV doesn’t tempt
whatever skulks out there
to clamber through my window
and push its ugly face to mine.
Maybe when dawn arrives I’ll run
to the grocery for orange juice and milk.
I’ll pretend that living on this street [stanza break]
is like living anywhere, the stink
of the one toilet stoking a blue
flame many stories tall, mocking
or maybe commemorating
the functions of the body
none of us love anymore.
William Doreski recently retired after years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire (USA). His most recent book of poetry is The Suburbs of Atlantis (2013). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.
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