William Doreski recently returned to Boston after years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire. 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.
You worry that the dawn chorus
lacks thrush, grosbeak, phoebe song,
that few spring peepers survive,
that raccoon and fox no longer
prowl and plunder. Dank spring days
unlimber like genealogies,
exposing shameless ancestries.
You worry that the coral reefs
bleaching in oxygen depletion
have become the largest tombstones,
competing with Gothic churches
to claim the place that chandeliers
once held in the imagination.
Why have planet and spirit
so badly estranged each other?
Why do musicians stutter and flail
their instruments and fail to sound
a single coherent note? Birds
always model the most desired
forms of speech or song. The fires
in Alberta, burning small towns,
gust far overhead, raining ash.
You want me to thrust a hand
into those fires and sacrifice
my sense of touch so the ghost
of all extinction will pity
itself and us. If I refuse,
you say, the dawn chorus
will stifle completely, leaving
a silence shaped to crush me
like some medieval torture device
its victims can’t help but love.
Hiking in a rave of blackflies,
I’m slight enough to pass unseen
among the ghosts of animals
extinguished by the ice age.
You wonder that I wonder
at the boulders the glaciers left,
the trees half-gnawed by beavers,
the dead pine splintered by the ant-
crazed hammering of a redhead
pileated woodpecker. Why scratch
dimpled bug bites when paintings
by Matisse flourish in the mental
gallery, and music by Sibelius
flutters in the cusp of my hearing?
Shouldn’t I slump in an armchair
and let these hauntings consume me
the way aesthetes of the previous
century self-consumed by smoking
bitter cigarettes and drinking
green liqueurs from fragile cups?
You’d rather see me flourish
a flimsy yellowed paperback
than pose on the rocks at the edge
of a pond the color of clouds.
So we differ in style and gender,
just as the boulders vary
in mineral content, and the pond
shifts mood and stance with the light.
When the mammoth went extinct
some distant prenatal notion
of myself also went extinct,
and now I’d like to recover it
by tracking myself backward years
and years, long before I met you,
long before we mistook ourselves
for the end of evolution,
two gestures sculpted with joy.