By: William Doreski
Glacial Erratics in Belmont
Being rocks, they don’t remember.
Or remember very little.
The streets square up to houses,
to the playground, tennis courts,
and the large but effete cemetery.
The rocks squat self-conscious
on lawns as tough and polished
as the law allows. I kneel
before one and feel its cold
shoulders try to shrug me off.
The householders often catch
rock-worshippers like me
leaning into their property,
but almost never call the police.
Glacial erratics are common
in the Boston Basin, their weight
much of what holds us together.
I would like to stroke the surface
of these three fine examples,
but don’t want to actually trespass
without theology to back me.
The cool dusk pools in the street.
The cries of kids in the playground
recede like an ebbing surf.
I’ll take photos to prove that these rocks
thrive in this plain old suburb.
And then I’ll wander off with hands
roughened by imagining that
I’ve spent a lifetime worshipping
stone that hardly ever responds.
For Stratis in Old Age
The Greek gods and goddesses
take turns trimming your mustache.
At night the yellow effusion
of the Parthenon fills your windows
with a flavor tourists mistake
for that extinct elixir we shared
long ago in the Penguin Lounge
in Harvard Square where fortune
favors the arrogant young.
Your withdrawal to native soil
hasn’t gone unnoticed. Stone
creaks on stone, grinding faces
of sculptures buried too deeply
for archaeologists to unearth.
You hear that low sound the way
some people hear ghosts moaning
over the dearth of their life spans.
Sometimes on sullen afternoons
when the heat thickens the streets
and the cafes nod off you climb
the Acropolis by way of the hole
in the fence, eschewing ticket fees,
tour guides. You perch in the ruined
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
and pose for tourists who think
you’re the better part of the show.
You’ve come for the breeze but
stay for the adulation. Bells
of distant churches fondle
the smog and stir your sense
of the infinite, which long ago
snagged on these cliffs where birds
tatter it to build their nests.
Your mustache remains dead black
without the faintest smut of gray
The book you always carry
is one you wrote when very young
and raging to confront the Junta.
Those faceless generals have gone
wherever faceless generals go.
Your book simmers in your pocket.
Don’t let it ignite your clothes.
There’s already too much fire-light
at this altitude, the famous stones
having absorbed so much sun
they’ve burned away their legends.
A Shower of Arrows
A sunlit glimpse of stained glass
in a cathedral in a city
I’ve never seen and couldn’t
readily place on a map.
A day after thunderous rain
lilies have withdrawn their favors
and the mountains look resolved.
I don’t know why this angle
of vision has reorganized
the sensuous parts of the planet,
but a shower of arrows shot
from intangible tensions flocks
the atmosphere, singing aloud.
Although far above, those arrows
prickle my taste for nonsense,
and pierce the little defenses
manner and morals hoisted
overhead centuries ago.
I used to feel so dutiful
sitting every day to write
in clarified butter no one
lacking true faith could consume.
I used to tickle my senses
to radiate into vacancies
and fill them with flesh-colored joy.
Now even the lack of color,
pure black or white, avoids me,
refusing to catch my eye.
I would kneel in that cathedral
and in the carnival of light cast
by the sincere old stained glass
acknowledge my little despites.
But I can’t place myself on maps,
never mind the abstract cities
that have always haunted me
with ornament and imperative
so often mistaken for war.
Writing Limericks at Night
In the small hours the houses
of the suburbs shrink to fit.
You stay up late writing
limericks to amaze your friends.
You want to make them laugh
aloud with your clever syntax
and slightly off-color style.
But every line is a tussle,
the rhymes as crude as gallstones.
I could help you with the rhythm.
A splash of this or that, a daub
of vowel properly rounded
to smooth your unironic wit.
I should note that your friends
rarely respond to your jokes
but look at each other with pain.
I could argue that the limerick
insults the Irish in all of us.
Rather than further critique
your doggerel I step outside
and listen to the night-wind
prowl through the restless trees
and fill the open pores of places
unnoticed in the candor of day.
The dark flexes its muscles
and claims a territory greater
than the human attention span.
Not so far away a raccoon
tips a garbage can. The racket
rhymes with some other rough sound.
It’s only nature, like you at work
in your night-black nightclothes
all those stray words shivering
the length of your neural network
to arrive as stillborn as stone.
Pieces of This and That
A great blue heron meditates
in a hush of subtle hues.
Meat-minded but graceful, it looms
in its own shadow, its poise
brisk yet genetically affixed.
Here at the cemetery pond
mourners often pause to gaze
at that sense of distance Dickinson
often centered in herself.
I can’t recover her brisk outlook,
but I can watch the heron fishing
until it swallows a couple
of shiners and then lofts itself
with a lazy airborne stride
to climb the same distance
those abstract mourners have mourned.
Summer’s fading fast. Tansy,
goldenrod, joe-pye weed flaunt
their details to the bumblebees.
The gravestones nearest the pond
cast shadows deep enough to plumb
the nightmares of schoolkids about
to return to sweaty classrooms.
After a thousand doubts I’ve receded
from everything I learned in school.
Except what Stevens taught me:
that there are things inside a man
besides his reason. One thing
is this pond, with its frogs
and muddy bottom. Tonight
I’ll walk in dark water and feel
that mud throbbing with power.
And when I yank myself free of it,
dawn and the great blue heron
will be settling into place again,
indifferent to crystalline moods.