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William Doreski

In Memory of Patrick Sky

A feral musician, adept

with any instrument, strings or wind.

But you couldn’t read a score,

so in stark Vermont midnight

I banged a piano while you followed

bar after bar with your finger.

After clefs and key signatures

and a few cans of beer you sight-read

and played, note-perfect, Charlie

Parker’s Night in Tunisia

on uilleann pipes: difficult

even for the hard-core Irish.

The sky at three AM looked drunk

as we were, the stars amok

and the moon a displaced kiss.

“America’s full of prudes,”

you huffed and snorted, tossing back

the last of a case of Miller’s.

Months later in Rhode Island

I found you rebuilding a van

into a camper, a craft that paid

more than making the pipes you loved.

You fondled your DeWalt drill

with a craftsman’s gentle touch.

Still later in downtown Boston

we crashed an Irish tourist pub

where you sang a couple of numbers

from your album of corny satire

and earned us a dozen free ales

and bowl after bowl of snacks.

We split over a woman, of course,

as the fabricated plot required.

The last time we met face to face

the table between us shook

with the downthrust of our elbows

and our mutually disgruntled pride.                         

You retreated to the Carolinas

in your shabby antique van

and I crept off to New Hampshire

to teach in a teacher’s college

while the woman in question dashed

to Palo Alto with a lover.                                            

Your music dangles in the clouds

like the ghost of a famous blimp.

But today, hottest of the year,

you’ve hit a high C that shivers

the air, fracturing shadows

into shapes like notes on a staff. 

Formosa and Taiwan

After a twenty-hour flight,

we shuck our old skins and step

on the paved expanse of Taiwan,

which I mislabeled Formosa

in my feckless, legless youth.

An hour after deplaning,

you’re smug in a plush blue seat

in a cavernous sea-green hall

while I stand in the back groaning

with my nervous system dangling.

Onstage a panel discussion rails

at the lack of form in my novels.

Although my full name balloons

in the rafters, although title

after title drips from pursed lips,

although they cite books bearing

my name and dust jacket photo,

I’ve never written a novel,

as every conferee knows.

Why embarrass me by critiquing

works I never worked for love

or money? Why invite me

to this conference just to trash me?

You’re laughing in your seat,

enjoying my public dissection

in Chinese, French, and English.

Oddly, I understand the Chinese

better than the English or French,

both of which I’m forgetting.

Real China lurks across the strait.

Maybe tonight while you’re dining

among the Nobel Prize winners

I’ll swim those dark waters and seek

asylum with the oldest

and wittiest literary culture.

Let the moot distinction between

Formosa and Taiwan gnash

in the smiles of actual novelists

who unlike me are so famous

no one remembers their names.

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes(2021). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.

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