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.