William Doreski recently returned to Boston after years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire. He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals and several small-press books. His forthcoming book of poetry is The Last Concert (Salmon Press). williamdoreski.blogspot.com
All night my bad back threatens
to harden into a carapace.
If I were tribal I’d fear
I’m becoming my totem.
When I step into the lustrous dawn
the pain is a limp horizon
that shifts with geologic angst,
unfolding cities that belong
to other continents, like Rio,
Lagos, Belgrade, Beijing, Sydney.
Looking more closely I realize
that my focus is microscopic.
These are ant cities constructed
in my back yard. The ants
wear native costume to confuse
their enemies. They lay roads
of tiny pebbles, and devote
their spare time to painting,
sculpture, and music so faint
I have to retune my ears to hear.
My back has bent me so I face
these ant cities close-up.
The canals of Venice scraped
in sand and brimming with rain.
The Forbidden City recast
in sun-hardened daubs of clay.
A Hindu shrine, an arrangement
of minute crystals of quartz.
Twig skyscrapers inches tall.
The ants in their brilliant costumes
shine as they prowl their creations.
Of course they perseverate—
so many little redundancies,
so many generations swarming.
I try to straighten up and face
the world on a human scale,
but the pain’s too sly and flattering,
the strained muscles caging me
with an ego that fits like the shoes
you get when freed from prison.
Bird call mutes the sky to match
the lonely places under my skin.
I’m no longer as taut as the pup
tent of my youth. I no longer take
the drunks on Boston Common
as a personal critique to place
beside me when I flop in bed
with hemispheres overlapping
in obscure but utile flesh tones.
The European moments come
cheaply enough: Apollinaire
coughing himself to shrapnel,
Benjamin’s hasty suicide
overlooking haughty Spain.
I’ve read the relevant books
and drummed on their cloth covers
and tasted the glue of their bindings.
E-books, however, swarm
right through me, sparkling holidays
of which the soul never tires.
The bird call thickens as dawn
crackles in a million bonfires
that illuminate the tissues
I’ve striven to keep to myself.
So what if unsorted entities
compete with me for the favors
of the lovers I’ll never meet?
That’s why the birds are crying
in so many warped pastels,
and that’s why Apollinaire died
believing the crowd sang his name.