Little Words Apply and Other Poems by William Doreski

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Little Words Apply

You claim the view of the pond
should be framed by shrubs or trees
and simply colored for children.

Little words apply, tickling
the back of my throat so I cough.
No, I’ve been swallowing tiny flies

that sizzle in saliva and die
vengeful black deaths. The light
is too yellow for June. Regret,

if you must, leaving the city
with its dinosaur tracks in cement
and airless luxury shops winking.

Forget our sullen afternoons
sprawled in sweaty gray bedclothes
with criminal ambitions fulfilled.

Reject a thirst for rural moments
that root themselves out of reach.
Now we observe how the shore

of the pond was platted long ago
to benefit those with wealth rather
than the aesthetic poise we admire.

Soon the two vocabularies
with meet and exchange genetic
material the way animals do,

with grunts and bellows of joy.
The hybrid born of this mating
will conduct diplomacy without

slowing the crush of climate change.
We can’t deter the universe
from being universal. My cough

annoys us both, the haze of gnats
so severely punctuating us
that nothing pertinent gets said.

Lathering Up

Lathering up for a morning
of coffee and lemon muffins
I feel as sleek as an otter.
You didn’t know that shaving
toughens me against the insults

I’ve suffered all my life. The pines
droop and try to fall on me.
Thunder mispronounces my name.
The lake tilts and slops on my shoes.
You blunt your snide remarks on steel,

and anger yourself beyond repair.
How does shaving protect me?
The ghosts of hundreds of beards
I didn’t grow shelter me
with a vapor of gray fluff.

The fact of the razor passing
without cutting me to rags
salts confidence into my hide.
You don’t understand because
shaving your legs doesn’t require

staring down a mirror image
every morning, applying yourself
to a project that seems hopeless,
because lacking a handsome smile.
The lake slobbers in its depression.

Its mirror surface competes
with our bathroom mirror until
the wind picks up and wavelets
shatter its casual artwork.
You wish the wind would crease

the mirror and further rumple me.
I wish my razor could traverse
the world, slicing great hemispheres
of startled expression sufficient
to revise our place in the cosmos.

Welcome to the Railroad Trail

White pasture rose welcomes us
to the railroad trail. The scent
reclaims parts of us that died
in puberty, sifting a fine ash
that darkened our surroundings.

Brightened, we shuffle along
and open onto a river scene
adorned with half-drowned branches
white as antlers. We sip water
from a stash in your backpack,

sharing whatever diseases
we’ll never know we carry.
Summer heat doesn’t discourage.
But when you ask where the railroad
ran when it was still a railroad

I remind you that steel rail once
webbed the entire nation.
Touching a rail meant touching
Ohio, Florida, Wyoming.
As we chat, I feel the energy

gather like the gloom of thunder.
I feel the ghost rail underfoot
shudder as a locomotive pants
at speed. I steer you off the path
and we rest on a log, sharing

hiking stories and anecdotes.
Now the rush occurs. The roar
of the train is almost fatal
and shakes me right to the soles.
Boxcars rattle past. A tank car

black with old oil spills. Flats
loaded with bundled lumber.
A caboose with two lanterns.
You’ve noticed nothing but
note that I’m suffering quietly.

We rise and resume our hike
but everything has changed forever,
the steam and noise and stink
critiquing the white pasture rose
for sentiment it can’t sustain.

Play Money

The sun shines you to a gloss
thicker than the fog in which
you wander every day in rage.

Soon a wall of storms will warp
across competing horizons
and pepper us both with bolts.

Our money is all play money.
We’ll end up starving in crowds
while amateur magicians perform.

Lurching rather than rising from
their graves, our mothers will wag
their wagging fingers at us

and will surely have told us so.
Let’s visit the supermarket
to stave off competing symptoms.

Nothing can stop the coming storms,
but their forces may deploy
in such familiar pastels

that we’ll find ourselves in rooms
we rented forty years ago
while ripe enough to matter.

Wouldn’t we enjoy sitting out
on the verandah in Arlington
while the buses nose up and down

the longest avenue in the state?
Instead we have a makeshift forest
always threatening to topple

on surfaces we value like flesh.
Let’s buy a week of groceries
and fill the refrigerator

even if the threats have swallowed
all the vanities we treasured
before dust and mold despoiled them.

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Venus, Jupiter (2023).  His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.

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