Tag Archives: William Doreski

On the São Francisco

by William Doreski


Adrift on the São Francisco,
dozing through the heart of Bahia,
I’m unprepared for the opening

of a huge and sudden lake too large
for my phobia to process.
Where have the muddy yellow banks

receded? The women scrubbing
clothes, the tiny children clinging
to their blossoming skirts? My canoe

has lost its bearings. It trembles
as the open space becomes too large
to accommodate my cringing mind.

The Sobradinho reservoir sprawls,
I’ve read, over sixteen hundred
square miles, but this plain statistic

hadn’t prepared me to enter
such vacuity. No concrete bridge
can leap such a dismal gap

in the world. No donkey carts nodding
along dusty two-lane pavement,
no trucks laden with mangoes

can domesticate this grisly distance.
Not even the carrancas on the prow
of a gailoa boat can frighten

the spirit of place that half-severs
mind from body. Those gargoyles
frighten away demons that rise

from the sunny blue current to tip
the shallow boats, but are helpless
now that hydroelectric dams promote

such massive empty spaces. I drift
with eyes shut until a mud bank
rises to help me ashore. Orchards

pepper the simplified landscape.
Keeping my back to the reservoir,
I kneel in the dust and shudder,

willing for the orchard workers
to mistake my pose for prayer,
their deep eyes ripe with sympathy.

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The Death of Socrates

by William Doreski


Caretaker of a hundred rooms
crammed with art and dainty antiques,
I cower in the modern annex
while ghosts trickle through the walls
and flex down endless corridors.
You’d like to explore the mansion,
although the murmur of voices
would discourage Stanley or Burton
or even the fearless Mungo Park.

Still, we venture into the drawing room
where a famous David painting
depicts the death of Socrates.
Note the index finger pointing
to the heaven to which Socrates
expects to ascend. What pagan
intends such a Christian death?
Now the great flying staircase glooms
to the second story and beyond.

We’ll examine the library before
we risk entrapping ourselves upstairs.
No one has ever read these books,
neatly bound in red and blue leather
and shelved so precisely. They’re fake—
book-backs glued together to panel
the shelves with illiterate order
actual books could never achieve.

Ghosts gather here to smoke and drink
and brag of recent seductions.
That damp filmy sensation
constitutes their bodies. The ringing
in your ears rehearses quarrels
dead a hundred years. Shall we climb
to the second floor master bedrooms
where invisible creatures enjoy
each other with grunts and weeping?

No? We’ll return to the annex
then, and turn up the TV to flush
the ringing from our ears. Maybe
a glass of wine will ease your
fit of shivers, and maybe
like Socrates on his deathbed
you’ll then find strength to defy
the powers that drag us down
into graves we dig in ourselves.

Sylvia’s Celebrity

by William Doreski


My cat loved a strip of mink
torn from a shabby old coat.
She named it Sylvia, dragged it
everywhere, placing it beside
the dish when she ate. Years ago
that scrap disappeared. Now I learn
that people mourn for Sylvia.

They buy birthday and Christmas presents
in memory of her, noting carefully
her size and color preference.
Sylvia. Everyone names her
with reverence, their faces blooming
with pleasure as they describe
her harp-shaped smile, the sine wave

of her body. Everyone knows
she loved the humid blues tunes
of Billie Holiday, the lesser chords
of Coltrane, the silence imposed
when Bill Evans died. People speak
her name with reverence. One man
claims her puberty distinguished her

from everyone but Audrey Hepburn,
who matched Sylvia’s grace but not
her sinuous, enfolding glance.
I want to explain that Sylvia
was only a torn bit of pelt
ripped from a moth-tortured coat
and given to a calico cat.

This makeshift toy meant nothing
outside my Cambridge apartment,
yet the whole world has adopted
Sylvia, clutched her to its bosom,
and lavished love on her absence,
regardless of how carelessly
my cat dragged her through the dust.

The Mess in Grendel’s Den

by William Doreski


Fresh paint on the basement walls
reeks up through the floor. Tear-blind,
I open the windows. What toxin
have you smeared downstairs? The glare
of snow dazzles. Cold sidles

into the weeping rooms. The cats dodge
to the woodstove and huddle close.
You sneer because I’m suffering.
You labored all day to brighten
our dreary basement and now

I complain that the acrid smell
curls my hair and triggers a rash.
You could have bought quick-drying latex
with hardly any odor; but no,
you prefer the alkyd brand

that’s tougher and lasts far longer
but leaves us cringing in its wake.
I’m sleeping out in the snow tonight,
cuddling with the cats for warmth.
You can breathe all the fumes you like—

but by dawn you’ll grow fangs and scales
and a dragon tail, and you’ll sink
below the frost line forever,
the beet-red new paint glistening
like the mess in Grendel’s den.

Truro: the Bay Side

by William Doreski


Watching blunt men surf-cast sand worms,
you want to learn to catch the groundfish
we sauté and eat with gusto.

But flounder, halibut, and cod
avoid shallow bays. Rockfish, croakers,
bluegills, shad, bluefish. If you hook

a big one—a forty-pound bluefish—
it could drag you into the water
where you’d squeal in Technicolor

until I dragged you out again.
These long July days seem delicate
and blue-white as Delft pottery.

The sky revolves on a pivot
about a hundred miles overhead.
The surf-casters mutter to themselves

but rarely speak to each other
and never to us or the other sun
people scattered on the seamless beach.

Maybe at dusk when fish are biting
I’ll rent a casting rod and teach you
to fling bait far enough to tease

a cruising striper to strike. Maybe
you’ll catch one. But then you’ll cry
for the pain you’ve inflicted. You’ll free

the creature back to its netherworld,
and for the next few hours regret
that you ever invaded its space.