William Doreski


Chills as White as Wine

All night, chills white as wine
trouble me. Spooning up to you
doesn’t help. The cats trample me.
They want an early morning snack.
The chills numb me to myself
and others. We haven’t spoken
in months, and now you’ll marry
the man I mistook for your father.

The rooms we occupied in New York,
Cleveland, Washington, and London
fold into one room. The gray walls
sport no pictures. The furniture
looks heavy, scarred, old, and sorry
it was ever made. We lived here
for two or three whole lifetimes.

Our children starved in that corner,
behind the horsehair settee.
Guests tipped over in the rocker.
In-laws tripped on coffee tables.
We sent victims to fatal clinics
where doctors and nurses shared
the cheapest take-out pizza.

We left nothing personal when
we began another lifetime deep
in the woods where screech owls scorn
the human presence. We pawned
your jewelry and my saxophone
and cashed in our retirement fund
to help with the down payment.

Now you’re running off to Hartford
with a man who looks suspiciously
like Wallace Stevens. In your wake
the cats will cry all night and the bank
will foreclose and the chills will claim
parts of my body we long ago
agreed were worth preserving.

Where Herons Nest

At the marsh where herons nest,
insects dazzle the humid air.
Peering at the herons posing
in their massive stick constructions,
I feel the distance between us
smother me in plies of summer heat.
The mosquitoes and blackflies flirt
in the weepy atmosphere. Bloodlust
rhymes with sex, as vampires teach us,
but I’ve spritzed myself with repellant
so I can watch the herons awhile.

Repopulated year after year,
these nests perch in drowned trees that
eventually will topple and spill
into the greasy water where frogs
and turtles will applaud. Once
I saw a heron feed a turtle
to its chick. Unable to crack
the shell, the chick dropped the turtle
thirty feet back into the marsh,
where it paddled away unhurt.
That turtle had a story to tell.

Once I dreamt of being stranded
in one of those nests built high
above shallow water. The tree trunk
too slippery to cling and descend,
I had to call over the forest,
my voice rattling like foil, failing
in a yellow sky. That’s what it’s like
to die with no one listening—
the stagnant marsh reeking of leaf rot
and the bulging eyes of frogs turned up
in hope of seeing me fall.

Storm Cloud, Lake George

(Georgia O’Keeffe, 1923)

The clouds are coils of metal
oxidized three shades of gray.
Below them, a carroty reach
of sky crowns a long black ridge.
Where’s the lake? A foreground
slants from right to left in smooth
and polished slew of pigment.

Is the middle ground, charcoal
and silver, a sleek expression
of water? Could I walk on it?
The roll of the clouds impresses
a weight that explains my doubts
about open but oppressive space.

O’Keeffe may have felt this way
about New York, about Stieglitz,
her lover and oppressor. Maybe
she painted herself under the weight
of this muscled sky. Maybe
I’m suffering her palette the way
she suffered Manhattan’s dingy streets.

She folded them into herself
to remember when New Mexico’s
sun came out forever. It burned off
the bleakest of her pigments
and left her flower-naked
on primal blue, red, and sand.

A Day of Threats

At dawn a flash and thunder
startle me from bed. The storm
withholds the comfort of rain
but offers to burn down my house.
The hollow place below my belt

expands to include the rest of me.
These storms speak too personally,
evoking steamy playgrounds
and smoldering days at the beach.
How often I stood on the porch

facing the weather-laden west
and dared the weather to embrace
my scrawny childish bravado.
More thunder leering from Vermont,
a whole day of threats. I invoke

the distance between me and the sky,
but lightning spans it so quickly
my plea doesn’t count. The trees
roil, shedding twigs and needles.
The bluster pours right through me,

further unsettling the organs
I’ve relied upon most of my life.
I should go back to bed and hide
under the sheets and stifle my fear,
but the anger won’t abate until

every debt is settled. Here comes
another roll: operatic, brazen,
and too heavy for the land to bear.
I kneel at the foot of the bed
and try to empty the space

between the storm and myself.
It works. the rain arrives in gusts
the color of old tennis shoes,
and the mutual festering of mind
and matter almost ceases.

Three Sweaters

You’ve knitted three sweaters for me:
green, black, cobalt blue. Wearing
the black one, I smell raw earth
turned over for a famous man’s grave.

Mourners shuffle with downcast gaze
past a mountain of flowers rotting
in weepy perfumes. Relatives
mutter about details of the will.

The marbled sky promises a storm
powerful enough to sever
the grieving from their grief. I join
the party; but a scene from a film

by Ingmar Bergman recurs,
and like one of his characters
about to kill himself I laugh,
and everyone stares at me, shocked.

In the cobalt blue sweater
I walk on a long winter beach
with the sea lapping and lapping
with doggy persistence and sand

whirling in a stiff north wind.
I’m following Thoreau’s footprints—
bare feet, long stride, bowlegged
like a sailor. They lead nowhere

I want to go, past a lighthouse
toppled when the bluff gave way,
past the carcass of a right whale,
ending with a heap of camp

fire cinders. I kneel at this shrine
with the wind desiccating through me;
and when I rise I’m wearing
the green sweater and clutching

a glass of whiskey and you’re gazing
into my faraway expression
with your entire brown depth exposed.
Thank you for these sweaters.

What if I wore all three at once?
Your stitch is dainty and flawless,
and the luxury of the yarn
you’ve chosen assures me you care.

 Copyright © William Doreski 2012

William Doreski teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent collection of poetry is Waiting for the Angel (2009). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell's Shifting Colors.  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, Notre Dame Review, The Alembic, New England Quarterly, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and  Natural Bridge