Five Poems , by William Doreski.
The Alchemical Warehouse
Your office in the rear of
the alchemical warehouse gapes
like a grave. Your desk, a slab
of tortured oak, squats naked
on a grease-stained concrete slab.
You exclude the world by ignoring
the rumble of forklifts, the clash
of bottles shivering in crates,
the clang of scrap metal. I peer
into your cubby but withdraw
when I see you preoccupied
with manila folders thick as flesh
and logbooks with tall ruled pages.
You ought to computerize but
I know you savor the fragrance
of paper, the sharpening
of number two pencils, the slop
of fountain pen ink. Too bad
we’ve never met on such terms,
sharing tactile sensations.
Too bad you won’t allow me
to play with your pencils or file
those heavy folders but
I understand your commitment
to the dolor of office supplies,
the sadness of army surplus
filing cabinets in olive green.
Meanwhile the sale of alchemical
equipment enforces your habits
and occupies your fancy. I know
that the Philosopher’s Stone lolls
in the massive old-fashioned safe
in the corner of your office.
One day you’ll accidentally
remember the combination,
open the safe and allow me
to touch the stone and determine
how metamorphic it is;
and then we’ll embrace like children
and the gold will flush our veins.
Empty sockets in the forest,
a pair of them fringed with moss
and hemlock, greasy water
still as quartz. Approaching
with shy little footsteps feels
like trolling for a kiss. Too bad
the pools aren’t deeper. No way
for Narcissus to drown in eighteen
inches of melt. Staring through
what should be my reflection
I’m facing Lara facing me
with her sad geometric smile.
As I kneel in the leaf mold
she reaches from the water and grips
my arms and braces me against
myself. When I said “trolling
for a kiss” I didn’t mean hers,
a smut of kerosene, but something
lavished from the budding trees
or lilting from a wood-thrush.
She reads my doubt and withdraws,
receding through the rotting muck.
I rise and examine the second,
identical sinkhole. Here I catch
myself peering through myself,
the way I’m supposed to. A fizz
of white hair, glasses cockeyed
on a thick peasant nose, an image
half-canceled by leaf rot and twigs
and framed by a mossy rim sprouting
the first brown mushrooms of the year
and the boughs of hemlock saplings
careless as the average caress.
Dawn’s golden chariot lurched
though its ruts an hour ago,
tattering clouds and making a fuss
no one noticed. Two hundred miles
south of my morning slump, you rise
in a glory of black satin sheets
and slither from the brawny grip
of your favorite. The raw power
of a high-pressure city shower
rakes the dimness from your demeanor
and sharpens your many senses.
Your law practice roars in your ears
like the surf in a conch. Your hair,
heavy with suds, molds to your skull
to form a helmet tougher
than what NASCAR drivers wear.
Between here and there, vinyl houses
have carbuncled Ice Age hillsides,
bridges have canceled big rivers,
and highways have unrolled like crepe.
The skyscrapers combing the mist
have stiffened your posture and honed
your phrasing to impossible pitch.
No wonder you lose no cases
worth losing. No wonder the cries
of your detached sexuality
rake the city night like the claws
of some ironclad bird of prey.
The rain tripping through the forest
exhales a miasma almost
as stifling and perfunctory
as your kiss. Dawn’s golden chariot
has crossed the sky, and the horses
sweat and quiver in their stalls,
and the fresh gray light receives us
the way legal documents receive
signatures, making impressions
almost as shallow as graves.
Efficient as a Clipboard
Oily runoff smears the concrete floor.
Splintered pallets try to snag us.
We’re browsing structures to convert
to studios for metal sculptors
and other space-hungry artists.
You in your sleek green T-shirt
would shame the bravest attempt
at erotica, but breezing
through this dusky brown vacancy
you’re efficient as a clipboard
as you calculate expenses
for the foundation you represent.
I tag along, splashing through puddles
with adolescent glee, feeling
too elegant and streamlined
for you to easily leave behind
the way you did two decades ago
in the noir of Los Angeles
where we authored a script you sold
for a million you refused to share.
Now you’re smoother than a gemstone,
the million spent on men too sly
to remain too long in your shadow,
and you’ve recruited me to follow
your firm but delicate footfall
through the ruins of America.
Your T-shirt clings like a debt
and your blue jeans assume a life
of their own. We slog through rubble
and laugh away the cant and orgies
of lives we shouldn’t have tried to lead,
the rat-smell nasty and sweet
and the roof so pinholed with leaks
the daylight spackles through it
like a child’s idea of stars.
The pre-dawn flicks like a tongue.
A pickup truck has arrived
to shoo the raccoons from your attic.
The crusty fellow spits tobacco
on your neighbor’s Toyota sedan.
We’re supposed to engage in sex
after running six miles daily,
or so our Chinese herbalist claims.
But with workmen arriving early
and your husband frying omelets
to clog our favorite arteries
there’s no easy way to persist.
The raccoons whisper all night
as they furnish their cuddly families.
Yesterday we ran three miles at dawn,
three miles at dusk, and simpered
and blushed through gender assertions
only Zeus and Hera could enjoy
without feeling like dirigibles.
Today we’ll rest and pretend
your marriage isn’t a coffin but
a canoe. Your husband loves us
equally, which is only fair,
but sometimes after our run
we return and find him scouring
the bore of his favorite rifle,
tampering with the evidence
of a crime he’ll never commit.
A long cold tongue is probing
but the felt-gray dark warms us
like the army surplus blanket
I keep in the trunk of my car.
The tobacco-spitter has panicked
the raccoons, who scamper across
the lawn and into the wetlands.
We could still run three grim miles
and finish with our sexercise
but the mood of the world has shifted
and we’re not sure we recognize
each other, too many omelets
digesting us while we slept.
William Doreski's work has most recently appeared in Notre Dame Review, Poetry Salzburg, Ars Interpres, Natural Bridge, and South Carolina Review. He has published a critical study entitled Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors (1999) and a new collection of poetry, Another Ice Age (2007). He currently teaches writing and literature at Keene State College, in New Hampshire.
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