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William Doreski

Urn Burial

Two clay urns placed in a field

a hundred years ago collect

ashes blowing around the world.

Male and female from a time

when sex and gender were one.

They’re almost full. This summer

I’ll replace the two with several,

allowing the ether to sift

non-binary and others into

urns of their own. Our ancestors

would understand why secrets

have unfolded, exposing tattoos

we used to hide under our clothes.

Not that I’ve illustrated

my personal skin, but others

have adorned themselves so freely

I can’t help sharing their taste.

When I bury the urns, I’ll ask

priest, minister, rabbi, imam 

and pujari to officiate.

I’ll have the field consecrated

in at least two hundred languages.

Assembling so many liturgies

will fill the last, best years of my life.

I’ve already bought half a dozen

new urns, and found a new pasture

on an eastern slope to place them.

I hope this atones for my plain

agnostic life among strangers,

my awkward smiles and silence.

Indifferent to my diffidence,

the ash in the urns has toughened

into powerful black concrete,

competing immortalities 

gathered into a single substance

tough enough to speak for itself.

Mountain Laurel in Mason

Nothing personal in splays

of mountain laurel enriching

the simple hardwood forest.

Driving through Mason, we gaze

at the surf of white blossoms

flaunting without a critique.

June days as thick as this one

require such floral displays

to endorse their other products.

Gnats, mosquitoes, and deer flies

gnaw and sip the acres of flesh

they claim as their heritage.

Have you noted the evil abroad?

Like and unlike the laurel it flaunts

ornamental but vicious motives.

Like and unlike the insect world

it subscribes to plain survival

without those stony excuses

we’re tired of refereeing.

To you the sky is always green.

To me the hills look yellow.

Fauves in our palates, cubist

in crudely grasping dimension,

we perk along the back roads

with all our senses tingling.

Parked by a marshful of lilies,

the far shore spackled with laurel,

we muse on the water level—

the lowered shoreline exposing

bullsheads rooted in the mud.

We can’t parse the entire world,

but mouthfuls catch our attention

and we speak in familiar tongues

of familiar textures and forms.

The evil putters about, wiping

its hands on its apron. Masons

wear aprons, and the town

of Mason sports an oversized

Masonic hall to make a point.

But laurel, not stone, dominates,

softening lines and easing the eye

away from the evil we spread

wherever we install our works—

the marsh only a naked spot

ripening in naked glare.

Agriculture Has Come to This

Watering my zinnia sprouts

in judgmental glare, I sweat

with fear of future tornados, 

politics, tick disease, drought.

Scholars of the dark warn us

that indigo horizons have warped

and shed disgruntled species.

Scholars of noon warn that cold

seeps from the marrow to blame us

for evolving with such arrogance,

two-legged in a cringing world.

Who thought that elbowing us

with pear-shaped thinking could solve

the crumble of soil that retorts

with confidence and dismissal?

Watering sprouts hardly responds

to the ghost-hands pawing through

my garden every night, feeling

the feeblest pulse and stroking

every leaf into glad submission.

I shouldn’t bother imposing

myself on floral expressions.

I should allow occasional rain 

to have its way with gendered

flower parts bared for a purpose

other than bees and butterflies.

Childhood on the farm misled me

in factors of summer spectrums.

In the next life I’ll rain myself

instead of blaming the cloudy light

that exposes every open pore

to every homeless demon.

Poet Laureate

In Walpole, certain streets climb

the ridge to lord it over

the square white village below.

I can see your condo from here,

tucked in a cluster of roofs.

Across the river a freight train

slinks along the shaky rails.

Further, the scalloped horizon

of the Green Mountains staggers

from south to north, scoring

its persistence into the sky.

Your married lover’s long dead,

and the space he occupied fills

with a shivery yellow mist,

so you’re surely writing something

crisp enough to float a load

of sentiment that otherwise

would sink the bravest metaphor.

Maybe when I walk back down

the ridge I’ll phone and invite you

to slurp coffee at the café 

and chat about the aesthetic

we’ve wasted our best years parsing.

Yes, I know you walk with a cane

and may not want to expose

your bulk to caprice of summer—

insects, thunder, and heat stroke.

Although we’ve never been friends,

today I think we should try.

But maybe you’re not even there

anymore, having slipped away

with a scrawled page smoldering

in your wake, every word as tough

as a promise made in vain.

You Consider the Apples

Your apples never ripen but 

drop green and hard from the tree.

A lack of confidence? Spraying

the flowers to fend off the deer

may discourage the fruit that later

dangles like Christmas ornaments.

Too much thinking. Like you

pondering childhood in Poland,

your father repairing scruffy 

autos from the Soviet Union

and your mother nursing children

abandoned by unwilling parents.

You breached the university

in a thunder of competing tongues.

You graduated with such triumph

it deflated the stark old regime,

leaving a wreckage of heroes

in foolish historical poses.

Now you consider the apples,

their small tough size, their weak

hold on the tree. You suspect

that capitalist norms disfavor

the old varieties of apple,

modest but firm, subject to worms.

Under the full moon of summer, 

you swear a vegan allegiance

that should move any flora to tears.

Meanwhile deep in the wormwood

the eggs of subversive insects

hatch with a tiny private sound.

You return to the house with a sigh

the color of rotting newsprint.

Those freshly hatched subversives

are plotting mindless tactics,

their instincts thicker than night,

advantaged by lack of language.

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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