Reeking of the Equinox
The sour breath of trash cans
overflows into the park.
The rain has depleted our moods.
Still masked against contagion,
people loom at each other and shout
their differences, promising war.
We can’t eat this anger although
it barbecues the air between us.
The riverbank buckles and coughs up
mud from the bottom of its heart.
If we could be so generous
we could resettle our politics
in a fresh landscape brimming
with proto-Scandinavian neat.
But the buzz-saw of rhetoric
with cartoonish fervor hacks
a ditch a mile deep to sever
this neighborhood from that one,
where garden gnomes have revolted
and taken the taxpayers hostage.
We should rescue them from looming
abuse of their meager paychecks,
but they would sneer and fail to thank us.
How did we get so disparate?
Something evil in the trash cans
refuses to die. Something reeking
of the equinox, objecting
to the early arrival of dark.
We can’t read each other’s mask
but suspect a broad complicity.
The river stumbles along, sad gray
and teary. Too cold to wade,
too wide even for children to leap.
The stink of uncollected trash
represents debris trapped in us,
making us too heavy to float.
Dreams of Beautiful Cities
Street patterns I dreamt last night
wouldn’t fit into Paris, Rome,
Shanghai, Delhi, or Cape Town.
You would need a clean white plat
to map them, and several bald spots
on the planet to accommodate
the earthwork to render them real.
We all dream of beautiful cities,
starlit palaces and neon dives
where couples exchange genetics
without the faintest hint of shame.
Railroads bundled like wiring,
marble facades unscarred by mold.
Housing of antiseptic plastics
from chemical plants that never
pollute or burst into flames.
You often report such cities
erupting like fungus in places
no one would ever look for them.
You dwell on and in their villas,
townhouses, luxury apartments—
the upper levels of construction.
But I dream of the layout, plumbing,
the underground cables, the poured
concrete vaults of the subways.
I dream at this level because
I wanted to be a city planner
until I realized that cities
refuse to be planned. Lagos, London,
Cairo, New York. They grow
from seed and sprawl. China
believes its new cities are planned,
but they’ll run riot, grow weedy
and rank as cities and people do.
Our lifelines are shorter now
than the avenues I mapped last night.
Still, we can walk the length of them
from downtown to wooded suburbs
and explore the quieter side streets
and learn how the built world smothers
the natural one, beginning
with the dross inside our heads.
Pattern is Purpose
Watching Canada geese paddle
across the fly pond convinces me
that pattern is purpose. Why else
would the ripple of their wake
mime the wind-response of pines
and the shiver of naked lovers?
On this lithographed afternoon
the geese are unafraid of me,
but prefer the far shore where
there’s no bench to seat me
for a Zen moment or two.
No reckless lovers, either,
although one drab evening I glimpsed
sleek bodies parsing each other
while trout bubbled up for mayflies.
The mind settles easily here—
the pond almost perfectly round,
the plantation of red pines planted
in strict ranks, the geese half-tame.
Centered in weight I distribute
through my carefully seated self,
I try to honor distinctions
among the non-human elements—
the geese, the water, the texture
although not the stance of the pines.
Only another human presence
could further refine this scenery.
But I always come here alone
to avoid startling even simple
life forms like trout and insects
and in winter the snow-ghosts
that glide so gently over the eye.
William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He recently retired after many years of teaching at Keene State College in New Hampshire. His most recent book of poetry is Stirring the Soup (2020). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals.