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,
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.
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.