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Poetry by William Doreski

Prague or Krakow
Of a Certain Magnitude
After Decades Off the Map
High Church Choirs
Published Janurary 11, 2017

Prague or Krakow

Upstairs in my grandmother’s house
high secret rooms no one visits
but me. Haunted by war dead
before I was born, abandoned
and nailed shut, these small rooms yield
views otherwise impossible.

One overlooks distant Manhattan
with its muddle of skyscrapers
gloomy as stalks of lichen.
Another peers down at a square
in some European city,
either Prague or Krakow. My favorite
looms high above a river,
a big shallow river like the Platte,
shimmering veil of current
warping over a stony bottom.

I often visit these creepy rooms
when my cousins invite me for drinks
and snacks, and the big white light
at the end of summer is fading.
After hours of small talk I rise
like a dirigible and excuse
myself. Up the carpeted stairs,
then up another flight, one
that few people know exists.
Then the big views embrace me
with prismatic exhalations
that illuminate greater distance
than grandma crossed at death.

The river taunts me. Fording it
would cost me more than a life,
so I return to the view of Prague
or Krakow, and relax before it
with a drink in one hand, an open
book in the other, and drift away
until voices downstairs rouse me
and I reassemble myself,
thank my cousins, and go home.

Of a Certain Magnitude

After a long violet night
you look as corrugated
as a page of ancient Greek.

From Aristotle’s Poetics,
say, the passage in which he claims
that a “whole has a beginning,

middle and end.” The starlight
appealed to your nether senses,
and with half a dozen famous

but unsung lovers you sprawled
among ripening constellations
and howled a spangle of joy.

As I lay in my rented room
I could hear the planet creak
on its axis. The pain swept

through ruins older than Egypt’s,
more obscure than the Hittites’,
and settled on the tallest peaks

where snow lasts for millennia.
I wanted to name this effect
after you, but the laws of physics

wouldn’t let me. So this morning
on a stool in Dunkin’ Donuts,
with a plate-glass view of men

toting polished leather cases
and women slashing the glare
with the sweep of power outfits,

I’m discussing with you a cone
shaped future, the apex sharp
enough to kill us both. The last

sighs of your lovers still fog
the air between us, but the thrust
of narrative compels us

to face each other in shades of gray
too subtle for Aristotle
to parse into genre and form.

After Decades off the Map

A foggy voice on the phone,
a hypodermic snicker.
I listen so hard my ears flap

like the pages of a novel.
The voice describes a visit
to a sinister art museum

where paintings melt on the walls,
drooling primary colors,
sculpture walks and talks and mingles

with the crowd. The guards nod
as a storm rakes the parking lot,
clattering hail and forking thick

shards of lightning into the trees.
The voice describes a moment
of stasis, when art and nature

face off in mutual dislike.
I should know the author, the source
of this voice, but long ago

at the end of a gravel road
she entered a marshland and faded,
leaving nothing but a bell-shaped

silence I couldn’t interpret.
Now with the growl of machines
latent on the horizon

her voice, or ghost of a voice,
lingers on a painting by Turner,
a smear of pearly mist and spray.

I know this work, have felt it
sift through me with a flavor
tart enough to remember

years after my first encounter.
The voice thickens. A stroll
on a winter beach, crunch of shells

underfoot. I was there. But not
with this disembodied voice
nagging above the lilt of surf.                                           

I want to hang up the phone and hide,
but the voice shudders on and on,
and in it the groan of fossils

forming underground, and the sigh
of the universe expanding
to try to include us both.

High Church Choirs

Next door the clipped-wing geese stretch
their soprano trumpets and blast
the September dawn into shards.

I brace myself against that racket
and hook a bird feeder to a tree
to entice the cardinal couple

to brighten the faded landscape
with fluff and eager appetites.
Today I’m flimsy as a songbird

and would like to paddle the sky
three, four, five thousand miles south
to a safe landing in the tropics.

But with my crude baritone outlook
I could harmonize with the geese
so we’d resound like high church choirs.

The one at Oxford, for example.
Cuddled in the tall stone nave
we regaled ourselves atonally,

warped by lack of faith to fit
into the narrowest space among
giggling undergraduate girls.

Outside, the winter dark thickened
the silence to gruel. The ancient
college buildings remained aloof

from our post-colonial presence.
We barely survived the months
and years that followed. Now the geese

clucking over scattered grain
embody life-force sufficient
to bless our modest efforts

while rebuking and discrediting
harmonies we thought authentic.
A fresh layer of silence falls.
As the cardinals flutter and perch
white pines gaze up at the sky
where a plain upholstery stifles

a glimpse of the usual sun-god,
which we’ve often worshipped in error
so we’d have something to repent.

William Doreski's work has appeared in various e and print journals and in
several collections, most recently
The Suburbs of Atlantis (AA Press, 2013).

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